The SPIEL '14 Games Convention
at Essen / Germany


16th to 19th October 2014

Sunday, 12th of October 2014




Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...

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


Welcome to this year's SPIEL-warmup, it's great to have you all back here for another week of boardgames mayhem!

The last few weeks seem to have flown by, with me reading almost every rulebook I could lay my hands on in order to decide which games might be worthy to be presented during my daily updates. With hundreds of new games released each year I cannot claim anymore that I will bring you a representative view on the news released at the show, but nonetheless I hope that my careful planning plus some luck during the show itself will enable me to show you once again some wonderful games. In fact, I am as eager as any visitor for the show to open its gates, since I rarely get the chance to play any games before their release. So, like most of you the SPIEL will be my first possibility to play and test many of the novelties, and having read so much about some games certainly made me curious to play them.

However, we still have to cover a few more days before the SPIEL starts, and this leaves me some room for other stories. At this point I would like to share with you a funny episode from my summer holidays. My wife Nicole and I have been to Crete in June, and I took with me a copy of Ignacy Trzewiczek's new book "Boardgames that tell stories", a digest of the most interesting articles Ignacy has published in his blog. I have been loosely following his blog during previous years, and when Ignacy published his book I contributed a short article about reviewing games. In return I received a copy of the book when it was finished, and on Crete I leaned back under a tamarisk tree on my favourite beach at Kato Zakros and started reading Ignacy's hilarious stories.


Reading about Ignacy's presentation of Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island at the SPIEL convention in 2012, it was quite surprising for me to come across my own name. Ignacy updated his blog on a daily basis during that show, and he had written a paragraph about my visit to his booth. It was actually quite funny for me to see how Ignacy has perceived our meeting, giving me a chance to go through a meeting with me through other people's eyes. In fact, these few lines may give you a rather nice impression why I am going through such a long preparation phase ahead of the SPIEL, and - with Ignacy's permission - I am going to reproduce them here:


Day 1 - Thursday, 11:00 AM. Frank.

I have a demo game of Robinson scheduled with Frank Kulkmann. For those of you who may not know it - Frank is one of the most famous and respected German reviewers. He runs an amazing website at boardgame.de and year after year he reviews dozens of games that are released in Essen. His Essen reports are extremely popular in Germany. During the four days of the Essen Trade Show he plays tons of games and reviews them right during fair.

How is it possible?

Frank reads rulebooks before the fair. He doesn't waste time by letting publishers explain the game to him. He just sits and plays. He's prepared. He's a professional.

So, Frank comes to our stand. He sits to Robinson with two other gamers who were also interested in trying Robinson and... starts to explain the rules to them. Just like that, he sits down and he teaches them how to play. I try to help, but Frank says that he can handle it. I can go to the second table to present Robinson.

Yes, Frank is a pro.

Sitting on the beach of Kato Zakros, a small hamlet at the end of the world on the eastern shore of Crete, this meeting with myself had been extremely delightful. For me it showed that all the work I put into my hobby of reviewing games is really appreciated, and apart from occasional meetings and discussions with you - my readers - it is this kind of stories which urges me to go on with my Essen-reporting after all these years…

By the way: Ignacy's book is really worth the read. Having dealt with the gaming industry from a reviewer's perspective for almost 20 years, the book for me offered interesting insights on the arduous process of designing and publishing games. Ignacy has given it a great effort to put down in words some of the most interesting moments of his life as a game designer, and from my perspective the book is a wonderful read for everybody who likes playing games and wants to go a step further. Just check out his blog to find out yourself!

But wait - aren't we missing something which is almost tradition for the first day of SPIEL-reporting? Yes indeed, and like in previous years I would once again like to invite you for a short trip into the surroundings of my hometown Essen. Some of you may remember that the SPIEL '13 coverage started with a visit to the Neanderthals, and this year we will not go back in history for that many years. It will be sufficient to board the time machine to go back for just 1700 years to the third century, but we also have to take the car since the place we visited today is about 65 kilometers away from Essen. So, this morning saw us crossing river Rhine, going northwards to the town of Xanten.

In ancient history the town of Xanten, or better Colonia Ulpia Traiana, had been a metropolis in the Roman province of Germania. At its height more than 10,000 men, women and children were living here, and their history is told by the artefacts which can be found in the ground close to modern Xanten. Today, the area of the old Roman town is part of the big Archeological Park Xanten (APX) which has been founded in 1977. Please note that all buildings which can be seen on the following pictures are reconstructions, but they have been made on the ancient foundations following the original plans. I have seen such kinds of reconstructions at Knossos on Crete or at Roman Vindolanda close to Hadrian's Wall, and even though they are not originaI they nicely can convey an understanding of architecture and living circumstances at these times. I loved visiting the park as a school child, and today I returned with my wife Nicole because our former hometown of Trier also has Roman origins and so I wanted to show the park to her.


The first Roman fortifications in the area date back to the year 13 BC when Emperor Augustus ordered Roam troops to come to the area to prepare for an offensive over the Rhine. In the following time the Roman fort always contained at least one Legion, and during the 1st Century AD the fort with its two Legions had been one of the most important military bases in the whole Roman Empire.

Approximately 10,000 legionaries where stationed here, building streets and other infrastructure, and because of the enormous amount of supplies which were needed to maintain the legions many traders, craftsmen, innkeepers and their families started to settle in this region. In addition, many of the veterans who had done their time in the army also stayed in settled here. At the year 99 AD the city was granted the status of a Colonia, making it equal with 150 other highest ranking cities all over the Empire. The city was named after the Emperor of that time - Marcus Ulpius Traianus.


Many civic buildings were built to underline the importance of the city, and apart from its city walls the city received temples, thermae and even an amphitheatre. The people living here were full Roman citizens and the economy flourished due to trade with the nearby fort and the crossing of two Roman highways which was in the middle of the city. All this continued until approximately the 3rd century AD, a time when the Empire was in turmoil and the northwestern provinces became instable. Following an invasion of the Franks, the city finally was abandoned in the 4th century.


Apart from the reconstructed buildings and city walls, the APX features a wonderful modern museum in which many of the local finds are displayed. Following a quite innovative presentation concept, the way through the museum leads you stepwise through the history of the city and offers quite interesting insights to Roman civil and military life.



In addition, many events happen in the park throughout the year, ranking from concerts to gladiator games. And, talking about games, don't forget to visit the Roman games house in the park where many boardgames from Roman times are presented and can be played!


So, if you are planning to visit the SPIEL one day, why not arrive a day or to ahead of the show to get over the jetlag and explore the area. With its reconstructions and the collection of Roman games the Archeological Park Xanten certainly is worth a visit1


See you tomorrow!!! ( I cannot yet believe it's SPIEL-time...)

Monday, 13th of October 2014

SPIEL '14 warm-up - Day 2. Welcome back!

Yesterday I mentioned that I have written an article about my reviewing activities for Ignacy's book "Boardgames that tell stories", and in this article I noted that the game Zombicide is one of my favourites. I have been asked why I like this game so much, and I have noticed that despite my fondness of the game I never have written a review. This certainly needs to be changed, but before giving the game a closer examination let me first give you some background information on the game's somewhat unusual topic.


Literature, movies and boardgames all have in common that they follow modern trends, and one trend which has been quite strong in recent years has been the dawning of a "Zombie Apocalypse", the downfall of civilization due to some strange disease which turns humans into mindless monsters. This epic fight of a lone survivor actually can be traced back to Richard Matheson's novel "I am Legend" which was published 60 years ago in 1954. The book has notably influenced the Zombie-genre, and it has found two major movie adaptions. Charlton Heston was lead actor in "The Omega-Man" in 1971, and in 2007 Will Smith faced a depopulated world in Hollywood-blockbuster "I am Legend". However, the genre has seen an additional, decisive boost by Robert Kirkman's ongoing comic book series "The Walking Dead", and especially the TV-adaption of the series which premiered on AMC in 2010 became the most-watched drama series in basic cable history. As it seems, it was especially Kirman's series which has made Zombies presentable in recent years, and so it's no wonder that Zombies are a recurring subject in some new games.

Review: Zombicide (Cool Mini or Not, Booth 3-B108, 3-H115, 3-H116 - Asmodee)

This introduction should give you the necessary background for my review of Zombicide, a cooperative game where a small group of survivors struggles to keep alive in face of an ever-growing Zombie-horde. In essence, the game resembles a First-Person Shooter which has been turned into a boardgame, and indeed the game mainly focuses on killing as many Zombies as possible. At the beginning of the game the players choose characters (survivors) and a mission, and the modular gameboard then is prepared as presented in the mission briefing. The players begin the game with a rather basic choice of equipment, namely a gun, a fire-axe, a crowbar and several cooking pans which serve as makeshift handweapons. These items are randomly distributed among the survivors, and so it's clear that the players strive to find better equipment during the course of the game. In addition, each survivor also has a unique starting skill, and more skills can be gained by leveling up through killing certain numbers of Zombies.

With these preparations finished, the players begin their mission, and usually the mission goal will be connected with the survivors reaching some remote regions of the gameboard in order to perform some kind of special actions. During his turn a player has an allowance of three actions for each of his survivors, and these actions may be spent on various activities like moving, shooting, melee-combat, opening doors, boarding or driving a car etc. Especially at the beginning the players will perform a lot of search-actions in the buildings, since they will try to find better equipment which may help them on their mission. New equipment cards come from a random deck containing a quite various choice of cards, ranging from food to automatic weapons (yeah!) or even a wandering Zombie (argh!).

When all survivors have finished their turn, new Zombie cards will be revealed for each of the "Zombie Spawn Zones" which were listed in the mission briefing. New Zombies will appear as listed on the cards, and in addition all Zombies which have been placed in previous rounds will receive a move action, moving them towards survivors in sight or - if no survivor can be seen - towards the group of survivors which has made most noise (by shooting, smashing doors etc). If a Zombie starts its turn on a space with one or more survivors, it will not move but instead it will attack, dealing one wound to a survivor of the players' choice. This may not sound too bad, but nonetheless a wound should be avoided whenever possible since a survivor is out of the game when he receives his second wound!

The rules for the handling of the Zombies are pretty straightforward, and the players can easily manage all necessary Zombie actions without an impact on the gameflow. To my mind, this is rather important for a game like Zombicide since it draws a high degree of attraction from its gameflow. Having complex rules and tables dealing with the artificial intelligence soon would be perceived as being an unnecessary burden, an experience I found nearly intolerable in Zpocalypse, a different Zombie-game which clearly suffers from a less-than-perfect set of cumbersome rules (The authors of that game actually had the cheek to invite the players to test and change their "sandbox" rules, a horrible way to camouflage built-in deficiencies). Mind you, depending on the chosen mission a game of Zombicide can take two or three hours to finish, but if both games are compared Zombicide is the clear winner because the rules focus on keeping the game quick and action-packed.

However, this doesn't mean that Zombicide can be played without discussions and careful planning. Several types of Zombies exist in the game, and when shooting at a space filled with Zombies the players have to observe a target priority list which can be a real pain. Thus, the "normal" "Walker"-Zombies will be the first target, followed by the big "Fatties" and - if present - the fearsome "Abomination". The latter are tougher and the players need to find stronger weapons in order to defeat them. Behind all of them hide the "Runners", a nasty kind of Zombies which gains two actions, making them a rather unpleasant menace. In addition, the presence of survivors on the target space makes shooting impossible, requiring the players to resort to melee actions where the targets can be chosen. All combat is resumed by rolling a number of dice as listed on the players' weapon cards, and hits then can be assigned following the target priority list (shooting) or freely chosen (melee). Underestimating the danger of the last-targeted "Runners" can result in grave consequences, and in addition the players will be hard pushed to find suitable weapons when an "Abomination" joins the fray.

To make things worse, the game gets more and more difficult the longer the players take to finish the mission goals. Whenever a survivor has killed a certain number of Zombies he will be allowed to level up and gain a new skill, but the negative effect will be that the number of newly spawned Zombies corresponds to the level of the most experienced character. Thus, the number of appearing Zombies is bound to increase, and the situation gets especially nasty if the players run out of miniatures. If Zombies of a certain kind are no longer available in the stockpile, all additional cards listing the appearance of this kind of Zombies now will result in an additional activation of this type of Zombies. Once this threshold has been crossed the situation will quickly get out of hand because of an ever-quicker Zombie-stampede, and this may happen sooner than expected because Zombie cards are not only drawn by the end of a round but also when a new building is first entered by the survivors. The bigger the building, the more cards are drawn, and so the players do well if they succeed in opening large buildings at the earlier stages of a game.

The three Zombicide-campaigns on Kickstarter have been extremely popular, beginning with a respectable $781,597 collected during the 1st Season in May 2012 and culminating in the crazy amount of $2,849,064 raised during Season 3 in July 2014. These campaign have been cleverly marketed by producer COOLMINIORNOT, giving the Kickstarter-backers lots of exclusive extras like special survivors which (by chance?!) resemble movie actors in famous roles. However, despite my general fondness of Kickstarter-projects I have to emphasize the fact that the attractiveness of Zombicide for me is not caused by all these neat extras, but indeed it is rooted in the perfect design of the game's mechanisms and of all playing components. With all the miniatures and playing materials the game itself cannot be called a lightweight, but in terms of rules and gameplay it manages to entertain with an easy but challenging playing system which has enthralled me, my wife and fellow gamers for many gaming sessions. It is one of these rare games where the players are hanging at the edge of their seats, with everybody applauding the well-executed actions of some survivors and moaning to the mishaps of others. Players who are not put off by the setting and the luck-based general orientation of the game will experience a stunning playing atmosphere, and the addictiveness is increased even more by the fact that new types of Zombies, survivors and gameboards have been added during Seasons 2 and 3. Wait and see - a lost mission will leave all players longing for an instant replay!

After this excursion to the world of the dead, let's better make a trip into the opposite direction. This afternoon I have made a first visit to the convention halls to see how the buildup for the show was progressing, but upon entering Hall 1 it seemed devoid of any living beings…



Well, rounding a few corners I could discover that the Hall wasn't totally empty, and just like in previous years the first nearly finished booth I came upon was from SWAN PANASIA. I have an appointment here later this week with David Liu for a playtesting session of League of Hackers, but this will have to wait until saturday and so I continued into Hall 3.


Hall 3 is the home of the big publishers, including KOSMOS, ASMODEE and PEGASUS, and like every year the hall was the busiest place of the whole convention area. Having advanced into Premier League with their all-time smash-hit 7 Wonders, Belgian publishing house REPOS PRODUCTION now can be found in Hall 1 as well, and indeed my friend Cedrick and his team were busy building up their booth.





I continued my walk through the Halls, and I included a visit to Hall 4 which is newly included this year because once again the SPIEL will be visited by several dozen new exhibitors. Hall 4 actually should be known to visitors of the SPIEL before 2013, because it is situated on the other side of the Galeria and belongs to the part of the exhibition area were the SPIEL was held in former years. The refurbishment of this part of the convention area which forced the SPIEL to move has not yet begun due to financing problems on side of the Essen City Council, and since the SPIEL needs more space this year a tiny portion of the show has returned to the old halls. In fact, I could take a photo from a staircase in Hall 4, and this nicely shows that only half of the Hall will be used - the other part is fenced off.


After this snapshot I left the halls for today, but before ending today's report I would like to focus on a matter which seems to occupy at least part of the boardgames world. In the last few issues of the German boardgames magazine Spielbox the authors repeatedly covered the topic of paid game reviews, something which can be discussed quite controversely. I had not been aware of this development until a few months back when I stumbled upon a Kickstarter-campaign which advertised a game with reviews from renowned reviewers, and there I saw a button which stated that these reviews were independent and that no money has been given for the favourable review. At that time I was a bit irritated, because I did not really understand why the creator of the campaign has seen the need to state this explicitly. However, my understanding for this grew as the aforementioned Spielbox-article stated that some publishers actually offer some kind of remuneration for a review or a preview, and this brought me to the question whether I should make some kind of statement on the position of Kulkmann's Gamebox. Mind you, I do not think that a reknown reviewer ever would praise a sub-standard game because he had been paid to do so, and as long as the fact that a review has been paid for is disclosed I have no general objections against this practice. However, with the discussion having reached the level of Spielbox-reporting I felt that the time had come to clarify the position of Kulkmann's Gamebox in this context, and so the following statement now can be found on the Gamebox-Index-page:

Kulkmann's G@mebox is an independent non-commercial internet magazine. The authors do not receive any kind of remuneration for the reviews other than review copies of the games. Likewise, no money is received for advertisements.

Thanks for following me so far, and see you all tomorrow for day 3!

Tuesday, 14th of October 2014

SPIEL '14 warm-up - Day 3. Here we go!!!

More Zombies? Yes indeed, but they are fresher this time!

No doubt, the Zombie-topic is popular, but instead of delving once again into my own games collection today's review will deal with one of this year's hottest news - Zombie 15' by IELLO. The basic scenario in both yesterday's Zombicide and Zombie 15' is comparable, but IELLO's presentation of a Zombie-apocalypse focuses even more on action and time restraints. Once again the world has been hit by a Zombie-plague, but this time it is all the adults who have turned into mindless monsters. A group of 15-year old teenagers has to survive the outbreak, and they have to fight their way through a series of 15 missions - each with a duration of 15 minutes - until they finally will face the Alpha Zombie.

A boardgame with a time limit? Yes, it seems that authors Nicolas Schlewitz and Guillaume Lemery have been quite fond of QUEEN GAMES' Escape, a release from 2012 in which all players have to play simultaneously in order to leave a collapsing temple within a time limit of 10 minutes. In both games the passing of the time is simulated by a soundtrack with background sounds, and in Zombie 15' this soundtrack features zombie growls at regular intervals, signaling the players that a new Zombie card is revealed and new Zombies will be placed on the board. So, the inevitable question is whether we have a mere Escape clone here, or if Zombie 15' features enough originality to stand on its own right. After all, QUEEN GAMES will by joining the Zombie-hype with its own Escape - Zombie City at this SPIEL, and players might be tempted to go for the re-themed original unless Zombie 15' can prove that it is the more attractive alternative.

Review: Zombie 15' (IELLO, Booth 3-M109)

Like any of the other Zombie-games, Zombie 15' comes with a modular gameboard of tiles showing streets and buildings, and each mission briefing will show how these tiles need to be arranged for the current mission. Some Zombies will be placed on the tiles once the board is set up, with their number increasing in later missions in order to increase the general difficulty level. In addition, some tokens representing keys and equipment might be placed on the board as well, but in general the setup can be completed rather quick, giving the players time to decide who wants to play which character. The game comes with 8 different characters, and all of them have their own starting equipment and special attributes.

With everything set up and characters chosen, the game can begin, and unlike Escape-type games the players now will play in turns to move their characters and act on the gameboard. Each player character has a limit of four available actions, and these may be spent to move between tiles (street zones) or in/out houses, to pick up or drop objects, to use and object, to fight or - if lying on the ground - to get up. The players are advised to announce each action clearly in order to allow the others to keep track of the number of spent actions, and when the active player wants to end his turn he has to announce this as well so that the next player can carry on. This clear distinction between the player turns is necessary due to the Zombie-grows from the soundtrack, since new Zombies always will be placed on the street zone of the active player's current tile.

Most of the items available in the game are weapons which can be used to kill the number of Zombies indicated on the weapon card, but unfortunately all weapons have a limited number of uses, and when they have been used up they can only be used to fend off some Zombies remaining on the player's zone once his turn is over. So, the players constantly will be on the lookout to find new weapons, and these may be found by drawing Search-cards in a house. Here one of the big restraints in Zombie 15' falls into place, since the deck of search cards only may be searched once. There is an option for a careful search which allows other players to take cards not taken by the searching player, but during the course of the game more and more equipment will be removed from the game. So, a searching player has to be careful to leave some useful items for his fellows, otherwise he might end up with a stack of weapons he cannot carry whilst the others go empty-handed. In addition, the searching action always bears a risk that a Zombie may appear, since the deck of Search cards also features cards with wandering Zombies.

As might be guessed, fighting Zombies is constant business for our group of teenagers, especially since the characters only can leave zones which do not contain any Zombies. So, fighting actions may be used to kill a number of Zombies associated with the weapon used, and these Zombies just go back to the common stockpile without any rolling of dice or other luck-dependent decision making. However, what happens if a player ends his turn in a zone with still some Zombies present? In this case he will have to check whether he can keep the Zombies at bay, using the fend-off value of his strongest weapon. If this is not sufficient, the character will lose a life point and falls to the ground, costing him one action to get up again during his following turn. Due to the rule that a zone containing Zombies cannot be left, it becomes clear that this character now is in serious trouble, especially if he does not have a weapon for killing zombies anymore. In this case other players will need to help, killing zombies and increasing the combined ability to fend off remaining Zombies. Sometimes help may be needed faster than expected, since most combat actions will make some noise and require the players to place additional Zombies into a special reservoir called the "Horde box". Some cards in the stack of Zombie-cards show a Horde-symbol, and when such a card is drawn upon a growl from the soundtrack the contents of the box will emptied into the active player's zone!

Zombie 15' actually features a quite nice combination of individual player actions and teamplay, giving each player the possibility to play his own turn but at the same time allowing the other players to help directly (through joint combat) or on the level of logistics. So, one of the active player's neighbors should watch out for any mistakes made by the active player, whereas the other neighbor should make all placements of new Zombies. This is rather helpful to keep the game flowing and to allows the active player to focus on his own actions. In a way, I think that this action sequence is preferable to the chaotic simultaneous dice rolling of all players in Escape-type games, and it enables a slightly increased tactical gameplay since the non-active players usually get time to take a breath and think about the general situation on the board.

Another very nice feature of Zombie 15' is its mission-spanning coherence, giving the players the possibility to play all 15 missions as a large campaign. The authors cleverly use this campaign-mode for a stepwise introduction of the full rules during the first four missions, and in addition the players also are allowed to collect special tokens with a search-value. Between missions these tokens may be spent to purchase additional equipment from a deck of special items, ranging from helpful pets like a dog or a cat to armor, food, a defibrillator or some dynamite. These special items may be used during the following mission, and in addition the player also may opt to keep his normal items from the last mission at their current ammo levels. All this creates a nice story arc for the players, increasing the playing atmosphere and challenging them to play several missions during one gaming session.

QUEEN GAMES' Escape must be granted the honors of being the earlier and thus more innovative game, but for me Zombie 15' has overtaken the whole Escape-series on almost any ground. The graphics and components are better, gameplay from mission to mission is coherent and the turn-based player action allows more room for tactical play. All this will not induce me to get rid of my copy of Escape because the game still will be useful when all players feel the need for a short interlude of absolute mayhem, but owning Zombie 15' certainly will prevent me from obtaining Escape Zombie City. A first examination of the rules and components revealed at Kickstarter makes Zombie 15' the better choice for me - an assessment which is strengthened by QUEEN GAMES' history of re-theming old gaming concepts in order to sell the same idea several times.

Talking about IELLO, I have visited the convention halls this afternoon, and of course the halls were much busier today. IELLO's booth was looking fine apart from the still missing tables, and other publishers in Hall 3 were catching up as well!




But why not stay a bit longer with IELLO and their new releases? At the moment I am desperately waiting for the arrival of some English copies of the new expansion for last year's Titanium Wars, a cardgame of galactic conquest. So far I only could play a few games with a French copy of Titanium Wars Confrontation, but since it enhances the game in two ways - first by adding new cards and second by introducing rules to play the game with just two players - I can barely await its release.

Review: Titanium Wars Confrontation (IELLO, Booth 3-M109)

The new two-player rules quickly can be summarized. In effect, all the game's rules remain the same, but now the player who owns fewest planets will gain one additional ship card for the upcoming round - the Mercenaries. This ship belongs to the Cruiser-class, although it is slightly stronger than an average cruiser. It has the benefit that it does not count against a player's ship limit, and in addition is will re-appear each round of play, even if it has been destroyed in battle. In effect, the Mercenaries are used as a balancing aid, since the player who has fallen behind now may try to use the offensive punch of the additional cruiser to catch up again with the leading player. All this works rather nicely, making Titanium Wars an enjoyable experience even if only two players are available.

Apart from this, all main new elements of Titanium Wars Confrontation are cards of new leaders, planets, ships, upgrades and buildings. An expansion which just introduces a few new cards to an already existing game always is faced with the question whether the new cards are merely fluff, expanding a good game just for the means of creating and selling an expansion, or whether the game really profits from the new cards, making it effectively better than the base game. Titanium Wars Confrontation falls into the latter category, since especially the new buildings, upgrades and ships open up really interesting investment alternatives for the players, giving seasoned Titanium Wars generals some new tactical approaches.

The players now can upgrade one of their ships to become their Flagship, giving that ship higher attack and defense values and increasing the player's maximum hand size for Tactics-cards by one. The other new upgrade is the a Combat Computer, and this allows its owner to play first in case of a simultaneous attack, and at the same time diversion maneuvers of opposing players can be ignored. Both of these upgrades have are expensive, but they are really nice additions for individualizing a player's fleet. The same is true for the new Orbital Platform, a building which actually is considered to be a planet, giving its owner three more slots for buildings. This comes in really handy for a player who is running short on planets, and another alternative for using it is to use the available space at the beginning of the game to place additional factories which greatly boosts a player's income. Talking about income, the new Recycling Factory also increases a player's funds, since the capacity to recycle all destroyed ships and upgrade cards will give the player some of his investments back.

To be honest, most of the other new cards fall back behind the four cards described above. The six new leaders and four additional planets are a nice addition, with their skills/special ability varying from the cards of the basic game. However, the impact on gameplay cannot be compared to the four new investments, and the same is true for the new Corvet-class ships. They are a nice variant which allows some additional more timing-considerations during space battles (a new Tactics deck is included), but they are not an absolute necessity. More interesting in terms of ships are the new Defense Turrets, since they do not have a normal attack value, but instead they only damage ships which have been used to attack units of the Turret's owner. This makes up an interesting option for a defensive strategy.

Overall, my affirmative answer to the question whether the expansion is really needed stands true, because the game really profits from most of the new cards, whereas some other new elements are nice to have but not really necessary. Myself, I will never again play Titanium Wars without the expansion because it provides for a broader playing experience, but nonetheless I asked myself whether the new cards could not have been included in the base game. Leaving aside the 50 new Tactics-cards, I am talking about a total of 52 cards which show 17 (!) unique new improvements (6 planets, 4 leaders, 2 new units, 2 upgrades, 2 buildings and the Mercenaries), and if they had been part of Titanium Wars right from the beginning the replacement of the whole Tactics-deck would have been superfluous. I have talked with Frédéric Guérard, the game's designer, about this observation, and he ensured me that the new cards have been developed after the initial release of the base game. He said that each card took him a lot of time to design, because he did hundreds of tests in order not to endanger the balance the game. Keeping this answer in mind, the amount of new content revealed in Titanium Wars Confrontation may seem to be relatively small in comparison to expansions like Relic: Nemesis or Legends of Andor - the Northwards Voyage, but as indicated earlier all this cannot change the fact that most of the new cards are a real boost for the whole playing experience. Fans of Titanium Wars should not worry a second - go for this expansion set!

And if you should be visiting the SPIEL - go and try to find yourself a copy of each of the three available Titanium Wars promo cards. They are a really cool addition to the game!

Continuing my way through Hall 3, I re-visited the booth of REPOS PRODUCTION in order to see how far Cedrick and his team had come setting up their booth. Today they had finished the assembly of the major parts, and so there was a bit of time for a chat.


For those of you who have thought about coming to the SPIEL to present a game at your own booth: have you always thought that setting up a booth would be done by pasting some posters, setting up a counter and adding a table and some chairs? Well, this might be the case if you have one of the standard-sized small booths, but if you have a bigger one you will need a plan! Only this way you will know how many tables you can place, and how many chairs you will really need. I guess that Cedrick will not have imagined that he would ever need such a plan when REPOS presented their first game Ca$h & Guns back at the SPIEL '05!


However, a Belgian publisher needs to upkeep certain standards, and so Cedrick proudly presented the stockpile of Belgian beer which will be consumed at Friday's end-of-day reception. Now that's an invitation which I won't reject!


Other halls were bustling with activity as well, and so I found my friends Konstantinos Kokkinis (ARTIPIA GAMES - Greece), Piotr Zuchowski (HISTORICAL GAMES FACTORY - Poland) and Lorenzo Tucci (CRANIO CREATIONS - Italy) all in the middle of their preparations. All of them already had received a first delivery of their new games, but the Team from ARTIPIA was not so lucky with their normal luggage. Instead of being delivered to Düsseldorf, their luggage had ended up at Belgrad! Hopefully they will get those suitcases before the show opens!




Did I just say everybody was busy? Well, not really everybody. Sometimes you just need a rest…


However, the dynamics quickly returned with a visit to the booth of BOARDGAMEGEEK, and here Scott, Lincoln and the others were getting everything ready to start broadcasting. No energy problems this year, so I did not need to go home like last year to get some cables…


On my final round I bumped into another well-known face. Guido Heinecke from TRICTRAC crossed my way, and just like me he was looking around to get some first inspiration for new games which he might try. We had a short chat about how the SPIEL had changed in the last few years, and much of this can be attributed to the change in the games market with more and more new games being released every year. It will be interesting to see how long this trend can continue, but with the SPIEL once again increasing its exhibition space the development still carries on.


This was not quite then end of my SPIEL-day, because I had a really interesting dinner tonight. A few weeks back I noticed the advertisement for the Kickstarter-campaign of Dark Age Z, a Zombie-game with a somewhat unusual thematic background. In this game a dimensional gate has opened up which spills modern age Zombies (and their former equipment) into a medieval fantasy world. The warlords of this world now are forced into some degree of cooperation in order to fight the common threat, but even though the attacking hordes must be kept at bay each warlord (player) still follows his own hidden agenda. Being a rather theme-orientated gamer, Knights, Zombies, modern age equipment and the combination of cooperation with hidden player goals would have been enough to make me back the campaign, but a check on the Kickstarter-page revealed that newcomer Anakin Man from Hong Kong and his publishing house SMOOTHIE GAMES also had done a good and proper job on the graphical side, giving the whole game a fitting, professional appearance.

I had been discussing with Anakin some aspects of the campaign layout, and as it turned out he was planning to come to the SPIEL as a visitor. We agreed to meet for dinner, and so we met for some burgers at Hans im Glück, a comparatively new burger grill in the vicinity of the convention area. It was a splendid evening, with Anakin showing me a hand-assembled prototype of the game and an interesting discussion about the games and the situation at Hong Kong. As Anakin told me, many people in the business metropolis have rather tight-packed schedules, and so it's not easy to find people who are willing to play a boardgame that may last up to two hours. However, he is fascinated by games in general, and as a consequence he has also opened up a games café where he tries to introduce the people of Hong Kong to the wonderful world of boardgames.

I cannot comment on the qualities of Dark Age Z because I have not yet played it, but if you think that the story sounds thrilling you might want to visit the Kickstarter-page and check out the game's rules.



But that should be enough of future releases. Tomorrow will be press day, and of course this means that I can present you one or two new games which will be released right here at the show. And, of course, there have been rumors that some kind of Prize-Draw happens at Kulkmann's Gamebox during every SPIEL…

See you soon!

Wednesday, 15th of October 2014

SPIEL '14 warm-up - Day 4!!!

Well, from tomorrow onwards the SPIEL is just games, but wednesday is traditionally the busiest day for me of the whole convention week. Today wasn't different, and so I visited the halls, chatted with lots of friends, tested some first games, visited the press conference and attended the awards ceremony for the Deutscher Spiele Preis in the evening. I better get stated to write everxthing down…

Before my convention day started I even had to see a doctor this morning because one of my ears had clogged up due to my slowly subsiding cold, but upon my first visit the halls I first went to the booth of Boardgamegeek and here I came upon Dale and Brian Yu. As usual, we asked each other which games we were eager to see, and off course here is also the annual foto. Nothing goes over tradition…


Next stop was a visit to the booth of FRAGOR, and here the Lamonts were eagerly unpacking the first copy of their new game Dragonscroll. This year the game includes a somewhat crazy device called "The Flaming Tower of Death which the players use to insert Fireball-marbles, and because the thing is made up of cardboard they were anxious to see whether all parts fit. Fraser was really happy when everything worked, and of course the four cute Dragon-miniatures also were peaking out of their box.



While the Lamonts were happy, Ignacy Trzewiczek from PORTAL (Poland) also had arrived. However, he was less lucky concerning his game Imperial Settlers because today's train strike here in Germany had an impact on car traffic as well and so the games did not arrive for a long while. Only late in the afternoon he finally got his games. Phew…



My next stop was the conference center, and here the convention-oranizers from Friedhelm Merz Verlag were holding the annual Press conference. I went there together with Dagmar de Cassan, publisher of WIN-magazine and curator of the Austrian Games Museum. Before the conference started she met a friend, and she was rather happy because she received a copy of FRAGOR's debut game Leapfrog which was still missing at the museum.




Dominique Mertzler from Merz Verlag was hosting the conference, and for me one of the really good things to hear was the fact that the Merz Verlag gave a clear promise that the SPIEL will not leave Essen for another convention place. Mrs. Metzler stated that they are quite aware of the fact that many international gamers do not refer to the convention as "SPIEL", but it's often called "Essen", and due to this fact alone the SPIEL is deeply connected with the city of Essen.

On the numerical side, the convention had grown once more. 832 publishers from 41 countries will present a total of approx. 850 new games this year, in the whole exhibition area has grown to 58,000 square meters. As I had told you earlier this week, this has led to the re-inclusion of a part of Hall 4.

On the more profane side, this also is meant the solve the toilet-problem which seemed to happen last year. I had not heard about this, but it seems that there has been a shortage, and so they have now included Hall 4A were additional restrooms can be found. It was somewhat strange to hear this, because a convention area as big as Messe Essen really should not run into such problems.


Quite interesting for me was the presentation of this year's trends and special events. For one, it seems that I had really chosen a quite topical theme when I decided to write about Zombies during the last days, because this trend also had been identified by the conventionists. Another interesting fact was that boardgame classic Don't Worry! actually celebrates its hundredth birthday this year. In the year 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, Josef Friedrich Schmidt had developed the game and founded a publishing house which lasts until today, but during the wartime-years the people had other things to care about than boardgames. However, several hundred copies of the game were given to military hospitals, and this actually boosted the game's popularity so much that over a million copies had been sold by the end of the war. Finally, another interesting news this year are two games which actually focus on the SPIEL-convention, one dealing with it from a visitor's perspective and the other placing the players into the seats of publishers.




My co-author Ralf Togler and I had met with Iraklis Grous from LUDICREATIONS last Friday in order to check out the game Essen, and here are Ralf's thoughts about the game.

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

So it is Essen time again. It is difficult to imagine that a year has passed again. And again I wanted to prepare for the SPIEL months ago. But - as every year - my daily job, my wife and children and some other obligations did not allow it, so it was not before early September that I began studying rules, always looking for that certain something. Now, six weeks later, my wife hardly recognizes me any more (thanks a lot for covering my back), the kids are only saying that I am going to my computer (we will play again soon, I promise) and I barely had time to iron my shirts for work (so there is a lot of housework to be done in the time following the SPIEL). But from what I have read I would say that it was worth it. So let us start right now…

This year two games focus on the SPIEL in Essen itself. A game about the game convention, how nice. One game from the point of a publisher, the other seeing the show through the eyes of a visitor. Scarcely surprising that both games have found their way to the Press room where they were introduced today. Frank and I had the chance to learn more about one of the games last Friday, when we met Iraklis of LUDICREATIONS at the Unperfekthaus here in Essen. Living in Essen now for over two years again, I had never been to the Unperfekthaus before, although I heard a lot about it. Perhaps a mistake, because we saw a lot of people playing various games on the different levels of the Unperfekthaus, and overall it seemed like a commune full of artists and people enjoying leisure time. For playing games it seems to be perfect. No loud music, no staff wanting you to drink more (all drinks are covered by the entry fee) and more and big tables with a comfortable space around them...


We found Iraklis in the winter garden, where he was explaining one of his new games to a group of four other people. After saying hello we learnt that these four people were his German staff for the convention, the ones who are explaining the games to the interested visitors. Staff was not exactly the word Iraklis was looking for. We suggested minions or underlings. That seemed more to be Iraklis' cup of tea, but the other people seemed not too lucky about their new function. So we left it at that and concentrated on what Iraklis had to say (and he said a lot this evening...).

Introduction: Essen (LudiCreations, Booth 1-D129)

First of all we learnt that Essen had been designed by Harry-Pekka Kuusela and it focuses on the fair from the point of view of an exhibitor and publisher. So, in the game each player takes the role of one the well-known publishers (if you look long enough to the illustrations you even can guess the name). Each player gets his own player board representing a booth with four demo tables and a back office. In the game we must try to attract as many visitors to our booths as possible and convince them to buy of our games.

How does this work? Well, the four days of the SPIEL are divided into mornings and afternoons. In each of these time periods we are resolving five phases. First of all each player has to choose how he wants to set-up his booth. Should we prefer sales tables where we can sell our games or is it better to have more demo tables to attract more visitors to our booth (and prevent them to go to our opponents)? Demo tables are for free, but sales staff is more expensive than those crazy gamers who line up to explain your games (maybe minions was the right word after all...). So you have to pay one money tile per selling table. What helps us in this phase is the precast of new visitors for the coming time period. As the available visitors are equally divided between the booths, you can plan how many visitors will visit your demo tables or come to buy games.

But how would a booth look like without the publisher himself? So in the next phase it is your task to decide where you personally are going. Should you sell the games yourself, so that you do not have to pay for the staff, explain the games by yourself, generating more buzz, go to your competitor to attract visitors to your booth or should you go to the general office hiring accounts, buying ads or representing promos from a general supply on a central board? Whatever you do, it will influence the flow of visitors and your chances to sell products to these guys.

In the next phase the available visitors for this round are equally divided between the players. Beginning with the start player, each table of a booth gets visitors. Publishers that went to opponent's booths to attract visitors are assigned visitors as if there was a table for them, too. This goes on until all visitors are distributed among the tables. Then it is time to generate sales by converting visitors to money (turning the tiles over). Of course this is only possible for visitors who were assigned to a sales table. But gamers are always a tough call. Sometimes they are longing to buy as many games as possible, sometimes they just wanna play. So, when you take the available visitors for this round, the indication marker is turned over and reveals how many sales tables can sell products in this round. Also the price for the games varies on the sales of the round before. Overall, a lot of things have to be considered when selling your products.

The next phase determines if your booth is successful in the buzz. For this each demo table at your booth generates 1 buzz, and if the publisher is staying there personally you generate 2 buzz. The sum of all buzz is added and compared to the booths next to you. Only if your booth was more successful in the buzz you may take visitors from one of your tables to the queue area. This queue area is resolved in the next round when these visitors are added to the newly assigned ones from the general supply.

Essen seems to be a well-conceived game about the SPIEL. The game's mechanisms seem to work and I can imagine a lot of arguing when you send your publisher to an opponent's booth. So Essen may have some funny moments, but most of the time there are tactical decisions to be made. It should be worth a try-out, especially if you are staying in Essen during the next four days.

What surprises me is that the game focuses on a fact that I - as a visitor and reviewer - have not experienced in Essen so far. Of course I know that it is the aim of each publisher to sell as many games as possible. But to my mind, especially in Essen, there is no direct economic competition between the publishers. Buzz is necessary, of course, but attracting visitors away from other booths? At the SPIEL you can always find a very friendly and familiar atmosphere. So, I hope that - despite of the game's indications - tomorrow I will once again meet a lot of interesting and entertaining people who are jointly presenting their new games to the public (and I will buy some games, too, I promise...).

However, while Ralf gave you the facts on Essen, I have returned to the convention halls, and here I re-visited the booth of ARTIPIA GAMES where I found Konstantinos who was happy that he had received all his games and even his luggage had arrived from Belgrade. I had planned this visit for some time because I wanted to check out the two new games from ARTIPIA, and here is what I can tell you about them.

Introduction: New Dawn (ARTIPIA GAMES, Booth 1-D137)

Back in 2012 ARTIPIA introduced their scifi-boardgame AMONG THE STARS which saw the players as different alien races building a space station together (I actually noticed much later that this setting is quite similar to Central City in the comic book series Valerian by Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin). The game was running on a drafting mechanism, with the players adding new parts to the space station in order to score by the relative positioning and the special abilities of these parts. As the story tells, New Dawn takes place many years later, and due to the high building and maintenance costs of new space stations the alien races of the Alliance have decided to recolonize and rebuild planets and space facilities which were given up during the last war.

All players start from a common Alliance base which is located roughly in the centre of the gameboard, and from here they will start placing new Facility cards on adjacent spaces in order to re-populate this space sector. The game runs over a total duration of five rounds, and during each round the placement of a new facility is mandatory for each player. These Facility cards are not drafted, but instead the players draw Facility cards to their hand in a semi-controlled fashion, meaning that they can chose which deck of Facility cards they want to draw from (economic, scientific, military or hostile). The Facility cards show different kinds of locations, and upon placement of a card on the gameboard the player will be allowed to execute the facility's ability as written on the card. This ability will grant the player a one-time income (Credit, Military or Science tokens) or some other kind of benefit, and quite often the efficiency of the card will be determined by checking neighbouring spaces for the presence of other facilities or player starbases. So, once the first facilities have been placed, it becomes possible to create quite interesting windfall effects by matching a facility's ability with the type and numbers of neighbouring facilities. However, it is important to note that a player who has placed a new Facility card on the gameboard is not considered to be the facility's owner.

To gain ownership of a facility the player first must move a Mobile Headquarter unit either onto the target or a neighbouring facility and then check the outcome of the attack by a dice roll. If the Mobile Headquarter has been placed directly onto the facility the dice used for this will be better, but each player only may move a single Mobile Headquarter each round, and so it's sometimes wiser to move it to a neighbouring space in order to try multiple attacks on different facilities during the same turn. Even facilities belonging to other players may be conquered this way, but the defender rolls an additional dice in defense so that an attack on another player usually is more difficult.

Ownership of a facility gives the players several benefits. For one, the victory points value of each facility will be scored by its owner at the end of the game, but in addition the owner also has one of his starbases placed on the facility. This does not just indicate his ownership, but it will also grant the player a continuous income in Credits, Science or Military tokens (depending on the type of the Facility card). Finally, each Facility card also has an orientation, meaning that one or more arrows point towards the edges of the gameboard. During setup different kinds of Benefit cards had been distributed among the four edges of the gameboard, and when a player gains ownership of a facility he is allowed to rotate the card in any way he pleases. He will then receive the benefits printed on the cards which are aligned at the edges towards which the arrows on the Facility card are pointing.

The players find additional options by the hiring of Ambassadors and by purchasing Technology cards. Both types of cards add either a special ability or a situation-dependent income, but whereas a researched technology stays with the player for the rest of the game, an Ambassador-token must be handed back to common stock by the end of the round so that he can be hired again in the following round. Another way to increase a player's range of action is the purchasing of an additional Mobile Headquarter. Each player starts with one of these on the gameboard, but three more of them can be purchased, strengthening both the player's offensive and defensive options.

When the game is over the players will score victory points for ownership of Facility and Technology cards, and this is added to together with the points which had been scored during the game. The most important factor for in-game scorings are the "Aid to the Alliance" cards which are evaluated by the end of each round. At that moment each player has the possibility to turn some of his resources into victory points by fulfilling the demands of the aforementioned card, but (off course) this comes at the price that these resources are not available for other actions during the following round.

One of the most interesting elements found in New Dawn is the two-level approach taken towards placement and ownership of the Facility cards. The placement of a new card may help a player due to the card's special ability, but on the other hand the player must try to evaluate the future consequences of this placement. If another player's Mobile Headquarter is close, that player will probably go for ownership of this facility, and so the immediate use of a new Facility card always must be weighed against its possible use for an opposing player. This multi-leveled approach underlines that New Dawn certainly is no normal space exploration game, but just like its thematic parent Among the Stars it is a rather abstract game where a good sense of timing and positioning is necessary. This actually allows New Dawn to be compared with Vlaada Chvatil's Tash-Kalar, since both games draw their charme exactly from the good combination of an abstract mechanism with a nice, graphically attractive implementation of the thematic background. For this feat kudos can be given to the game's designers Konstantinos Kokkinis and Sotiris Tsantilas, because they succeeded in expanding ARTIPIA's line of science fiction boardgames with an unusual, strategically challenging newcomer.

However, there was one game which had caused quite a bit of buzz when it had been announced, and so I stayed at the booth of ARTIPIA to check out their second new game as well…

Introduction: Lap Dance (ARTIPIA GAMES, Booth 1-D137)

What is a suitable theme for a board- or cardgame? Well, tastes are quite different, and when Greek publisher ARTIPIA announced their new game Lap Dance a few weeks before the SPIEL '14 there had been an uproar at the forums of Boardgamegeek. A game in which the players are competing to become manager of a strip club, featuring card illustrations of scantily clad women, provoked many forum visitors to criticize ARTIPIA, and the discussions and speculations sprawled even more because neither the rules nor a representative amount of illustrations could be seen at that time. As a result of all these discussions, some forum threads became unfriendly and needed to be locked, but on the other side the game was ranking quite high at the BGG-hotlist for some time.

With the game being out on the market, the discussed questions now can be answered. So, the game indeed contains cards with female and male strip dancers, but although their clothing is professionally sparse there is no explicit nudity in the game. Actually, the game's artwork and the rules take a quite humorous approach on the whole theme, and as it seems ARTIPIA must have been following the worries expressed by some BGG users because the rules include a disclaimer which states that the game evolves around legal erotic dancing and that the designers and the publisher do not wish to promote any kind of human degradation or other illegal activities. From my perspective this should cool down the feelings which have run high, even though I can understand that not everybody might like a game with such a theme. However, I think that there are hundreds of boardgames available which focus on much more doubtful thematic backgrounds, and likewise the artwork found in Lap Dance is not more scandalous than the graphical presentation of heroines found in modern superhero comics from MARVEL or DC. So, I guess the time has come to check out the game itself in order to find out whether it really deserved all this buzz, or if it should better be buried in the crypt of forgotten games…

The players' competition to become manager of the club runs for one night, and during the five rounds of this night the players will try to serve the orders of each round's customer as displayed on his Desire card. These cards list three orders with different combinations of symbols (dancers, drinks etc), and the players try to get the symbols to fulfil as many orders as possible in order to collect the benefits listed behind each order. Most important, each fulfilled order will generate money for a player, and the player who has earned most money after the five rounds will have won the game.

Each player starts with a hand of Action cards belonging into several categories, and the Desire card of the current customer shows which kinds of Action cards may be used in the current round. When the Desire card is revealed at the beginning of the round, a 1-minute timer is set, and during this time each player has to chose up to four of his Action cards which he wants to use for the current round. A player who has finished choosing cards receives a player order token, and after the timer is through eventually remaining player order tokens will be randomly distributed among the players who have not yet taken such a token. Now the Action cards of all players will be revealed, and in player order to players will use their cards to try to serve the orders of the current customer.

Some Action cards list symbols which can be combined to fulfil a part of the customer's orders, but most cards will list a dice-symbol which means that they add a dice to the player's current hand. The player adds up all dice symbols on his chosen Action cards plus two, and then rolls this number of dice in order to get more symbols to match the orders on the customer's Desire card. Dice may be re-rolled, but on each roll at least one dice must be set aside and kept, and in addition all dice showing a "star"-symbol are considered to be locked. A player will receive a small compensation for a high number of locked dice, but unfortunately these dice cannot be used to fulfil any customer order.

When rolling is finished, the player may additionally spent Favour tokens gained through pervious orders to recruit help from the six members of the club's staff, and for this it is important to have a low player order number because the staff members only have a limited number of uses each round. The staff may provide additional symbols for fulfilling orders or other special functions like the unlocking of a locked dice. Finally, the player will try to fulfil as many orders as possible with the symbols he has collected from Action cards, dice and staff members, and he will gain money, Favour tokens and new Action cards for fulfilled orders.

A bit of direct player interaction is added through Event cards and Special cards gained by spending a a Favour token on Jerry the Floor Manager, and the cards gained this way usually can be used to hinder other players or to steal cards from them. Due to the game's manageable playing time and the rather straightforward approach to hand management and dice rolling, such a robust interactive approach is rather welcome in Lap Dance, because it underlines the game's orientation towards quickness and light gameplay. With no deep strategy involved, the loss of a card by such an action still can be annoying, but it is not devastating and in most cases there will be a possibility for retaliation. In case of Lap Dance this is part of the fun!

Talking about fun, it's worthwhile the note that each customer card features a two-part set of special rules. The first rule concerns the game itself, varying the normal rules in the one or other way as long as the customer is active (i.e. for one round), whereas the second paragraph sets out this customer's "Fun rule". If players agree to use these rules as well, the game takes on some elements of a party game, requiring the players to sing a song or perform other hilarious acts during their turns. This kind of funny nonsense certainly is not to everybody's liking, but it can imagine that it may cause a good degree of laughter if the game is played with the right kind of people. However, there is no harm to leave the Fun rules aside, because this does not impede the game itself.

Having followed the discussion at Boardgamegeek and considering the age recommendation of "18+", I wasn't sure what I should expect of Drum Roll. However, I was quite certain that Konstantinos Kokkinis and his crew would not produce anything lewd or objectionable, and indeed a round of Lap Dance revealed that the game is not only quite harmless concerning the implementation of the thematic setting, but it's also quick and fun to play. I rather appreciated the timer which was used during the phase when the players are chosing their Action cards, because the time limit keeps the game on the fast lane towards the following dice rolling by preventing any kind of in-depth calculation. The connection between cardplay and the dice rolling also works quite nicely. The maximum of four Action cards which can be played by each player brings its own restraints, with the players having to decide whether they should risk the use of many dice, better focus on symbols on the cards themselves or even go for some tricky player interaction by using the one or other Event or Special card. With these elements falling in place, Lap Dance can be recommended without reservations to fans of quick dice games, and being a German civil servant (this species is not known for their liking of bawdy conduct) I have to concede that even the theme is implemented with a good sense of humor and decency. The age recommendation of "18+" seems to be a tribute to all those people who have raised their voice against the game at the BGG-forums, but considering the game's harmless contents it is certainly a bit too high.

As Konstantinos told me, the whole release of the game had been some sort of Lab Dance (pun intended!) for the ARTIPIA-team. They had been well aware that the game would certainly cause discussions due to its unusual theme, but in the end they had decided to go ahead because they wanted to see how the public reacted to this game. However, apart from the aforementioned disclaimer they took all possible precautions not to get involved with an accusation of sexual discrimination, and so the game includes an equal amount of male and female dancers, and varying sexual orientations of the different customers are also taken into consideration. Konstantinos and his team have brought the entire print-run of 500 copies to the SPIEL, but if it should be well received after all a new edition is planned through Kickstarter. This will include bonus materials, but here Konstantinos pointed out that all people who buy the game at the SPIEL will get this bonus material for a symbolic pledge. It is his policy that ARTIPIA doesn't want to put off existing customers, and so he will not do any kind of exclusive materials anymore. He did this once with Among the Stars, but many people were put off because they couldn't get the bonus materials and so all new stuff created for any ARTIPIA-game will be available for everybody.

With the afternoon running on, I also made a short visit to the booth of GEN-X GAMES from Spain where I met Servando Caballar. We chatted a bit about that sad fact that my former convention hit Luna Llena - Full Moon has not yet found a mahor distributor due to the rules needing revisioning, but Servando told me that an electronic implementation of the game for Apple-devices is scheduled to arrive any day.


I also got a short introduction to the newest GEN-X game which is The Possession by Oscar Arevalo. The setting in this horror game is even darker than in Luna llena, because it deals which a group of young people who have found pages of the dreaded Necronomicon in a house in the woods. The lecture of these pages has caused the appearance of some inner demons, and now the players will ty to keep their characters from getting possessed. If they turn into possessed, they will start to fight the still human characters, whereas a character who has remained human (or returned to this state) will try to collect and burn some Necronomicon pages to end this nightmare. The game looks scary indeed, and both Oscar and Servando told me that it would be perfect entertainment for a Halloween-gaming-night. So, if you don't find this too scary, you might check it out at booth 2-D110.



I needed a good drink after this, and so I quickly made my way over to visit the Lamont brothers once again. They had announced their annual reception for this afternoon, and of course they had brought some nice bottles of mead from Scotland.And, of course, I wanted to take a look at a fully unpacked copy of Dragonscroll



I found my friends Stuart Dagger and Scott Alden at the reception, but I was most happy to meet Louise McCully from New Zealand who had also found out about the reception. Louise and I had met through Boardgamegeek just a few days ago, and it is her first visit to Essen. She has been touring Europe for the last two weeks, and now she will be helping at the TREEFROG booth during the show. We had hoped that we would have the opportunity to meet for a chat, but we hadn't expected that this would happen so soon.



After the reception I left the halls to get ready for the evening, and shortly after 7 PM I returned once again, this time to attend the awards ceremony of the Deutscher Spiele Preis.. This year's winner is Russian Railroads by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler, and after some years of abstinence I was happy to see once again a game from HANS IM GLÜCK make it the top of the list. The publisher also wants to celebrate this event, and so they distributed a special mini-expansion for the game right after the awards ceremony. But don't worry - the expansion will be available during the convention at the HANS IM GLÜCK booth.



Can I call it a day and end here, or is something missing? Something's missing indeed, and so it's time to announce the annual

Prize Draw

During the afternoon I was able to secure some quite attractive games for this year's prize draw, and so I am happy to announce the the Lamonts sponsored a copy of Dragonscroll, Konstantinos has added New Dawn and Lap Dance, and Harry-Pekka Kuusela has given a copy of Essen with all convention goodies!

All you need to do to win one of these game is to sign my SPIEL Guestbook!




See you tomorrow - the first day of the show!!!

Thursday, 16th of October 2014

No more excuses today!

The SPIEL '14 has opened its gates for the public, and a few minuted before 10 AM the halls were as quiet as the proverbial "calm before a storm". Some last minute preparations, and then it began. People were pouring into the halls, some of them running and some of them trailing little trolleys in order to carry all the games they were determined to buy!





I have spent the 45 minutes collecting games, some of them preordered and some of them probably in high demand. A few days ago I had printed out the hall plans in order to find the most efficient route for this exercise, and I was amazed that it worked for me to visit half a dozen booths during that time. Then I made it for one of the entrances to meet a fellow gamer, and I traded a copy of Airlines Europe to get a copy of Space Cadets Dice Duel. I am not sure what to expect of this game, but my copy of Airlines hadn't been played for a long while so I decided to make this deal. I hastened home, dumped off all my purchases and was back in the halls right at 11 AM for my first meeting. This was nearly record-breaking!

Talking about records, it's always amazing to see how fast the guys from JAPONBRAND are selling their stuff, with many thing being sold out in the first hours. It is one of the booths were the opening runners are hastening to, and today people were even holding up singns to indicate where the queues were ending. I felt like people would kill me when I approached the small counter where the guys from JAPONBRAND were handing out the preordered stuff.


But now let's make it for the first game of the day!

Playtesting Session: Ancient Terrible Things (PLEASANT COMPANY GAMES, 2-C138)

The release of FFG's version of Arkham Horror back in 2006 has brought me to a type of games which I had not yet played before - games based on horror and pulp fiction. Although fantasy books from TSR and adventure movies a la Indiana Jones had my attention since my childhood, I had never touched the books of H.P. Lovecraft or E.A. Poe. However, Richard Launius' Arkham Horror changed this quite, and from this point onwards games with such strange dark settings have found my special attention.

I have first stumbled upon Simon McGregor's Ancient Terrible Things during my preparations for the SPIEL 14, scrolling through Eric Martin's very useful listing of all novelties within the BGG database. The image of the darkly foreboding temple entrance on the box cover instantly caught my eye, and looking at the images of the game components in the database reassured me even more that this was a game I needed to check out.

The story behind Ancient Terrible Things actually resembles an expedition journal of Arkham's Miskatonic University: a group of four adventurers (the Prospector, the Journalist, the Heiress and the Captain) follows a river into a dark jungle, and on their way they come upon different fateful locations where omnious things and creatures can be encountered. A player who masters such an encounter will collect valuable Ancient Secrets (=victory points), whereas a failure leads to the collection of Terrible Things tokens which lead to negative points at the end of the game.

The game runs on a normal turn-by-turn basis, with each player taking a turn trying to explore a location before the next player takes over. At the beginning of the game Encounter cards have been dealt to each location, and these cards come from a semi-random deck which consists of easy, medium and hard cards which have been shuffled in groups and then stacked with the easiest cards on top. At some instances during the game new Encounters will be distributed upon the six locations on the board, but this happens only when all locations have been visited by the players. The Encounter cards show beautiful dark illustrations of the things awaiting the approaching adventurer, and in addition they list one or more useful token(s) which the adventurer can collect if he visits this location.

After choosing a location, the active player first is allowed to collect the benefits available there (tokens and a location-specific bonus) and then he will have to face the Encounter. This is the point where four differently coloured sets of dice come into play, and usually the player may roll the five available green Focus dice in order to match the requirements of the current Encounter card. The cards list different kinds of dice combinations like high numbers, pairs, blocks of three or more dice or even a straight, and the player has a maximum of two rerolls in order to reach the card's requirements. Don't worry, we are not talking about Arkham Yatzhee here - Simon had some quite nice ideas which will vary this seemingly well-known dice-rolling mechanism. So, a player is only allowed to re-roll his whole hand of green Focus dice, unless he spends some Focus tokens which allow the re-rolling of just one dice per token spent. In addition, equipment and one-use Feat cards may allow the player to add blue Feat dice, yellow Luck dice and the red Panic dice, and each kind of dice follows its own rules for re-rolls. So, the Panic dice cannot be-rerolled at all, whereas Luck dice can be re-rolled for free and Feat dice can be adjusted by the spending of Feat tokens. So, depending on the kinds of dice available to the player, he has some possibilities to influence the outcome of his Encounter positively in order to avoid the appearance of a Terrible Thing.

When the player is finished rolling his dice, he can spend the dice to (possibly) solve the Encounter and to acquire additional Focus, Feat, Treasure and Courage tokens by spending different combinations of dice. If the Encounter is solved, the player will receive the Encounter card which will count as victory points when the game is over, whereas a failure means that the card is discarded and the player receives a Terrible Thing marker which will penalize him in the end-of-game evaluation.

Before the player's turn is over, he will once again leave the location in order to return to the Trading Post by the river, and here he may spend Treasure tokens to acquire new Equipment cards which can be purchased from an open display. The game ends when all Encounter cards have been used or all Terrible Things markers were taken, and in the final evaluation the players add up the value of their solved Encounters and possible bonus points from some Equipment cards and then substract the value of the collected Terrible Things tokens. In addition, extra points are awarded to the players who have solved most Encounters of each of the four different types, and the player with most points will be declared the lone survivor of this dangerous trip into the jungle!

While the concept of dice games with options for improving the results certainly is not new, Simon has found a very charming way to combine the traditional dice rolling with new options so that everything adds up to a quite appealing game. As can be seen by the rules outlined above, the players can use different dice, they can get one-time benefits through the use of Feat cards and they can spend their collected tokens in different ways to help them when dealing with an Encounter. Even though the players partly have to rely on their luck when rolling the dice, the use of these different means of improvement nicely helps in mitigating the influence of luck. Unlike other dice collection games like Roll Through the Ages some of the Feat cards included in Ancient Terrible Things even allow a bit of direct player interaction (e.g. stealing tokens or equipment), but these acts of aggression stand in balance with the rest of the game so that no player can get an unbeatable advantage by such an action. In addition, all players will receive a constant flow of Feat cards, and the cards which cannot be used against other players have nice powers of their own.

Some years ago games like Kingsburg or Airships re-vitalized the use of dice in boardgames by coining a new category of strategic dice-games. Over the following years this line has been more or less successfully continued by other games like 1969 or Alea Iacta est, but in general the quality of these games can be measured by the fact how well the authors were able to reduce the influence of luck. Here Ancient Terrible Things is a good example how a well-designed boardgame can make up with a bit of luck when enough care has been put into the other playing mechanisms, and considering the fact that even Richard's Launius' Arkham Horror needs dice to decide on tests and combat, I can strongly recommend the much shorter and thrilling Ancient Terrible Things to all pulp horror fans!

Simon (the pirate on the picture) and his publisher/designer-partner Rob van Zyl are planning to possibly expand the game in about a year, adding a set which features both a new type of cards and modular gameboards which can be used to create a travel edition of the game. Rob said that all the artwork takes some time, but if the game should be well received they are planning to have the new set finished for the next SPIEL.


The next big event of my day was the awards ceremony for the International Gamers Awards which is traditionally held here during the SPIEL, because it's the one time of the year when many of our jury members are attending the same event. So, we all met at the booth of BOARDGAMEGEEK, and here Scott and his crew arranged some space so the celebration could be held.



For me, the happiest moment of the whole ceremony was that my friend Ferdinand de Cassan from Austria had overcome his illness which had befallen him last year, and now he was back right in the middle of his beloved world of games. When our jury chairman Greg Schloesser announced that he wouldn't be here this year to manage the ceremony, Ferdinand had volunteered to act as host, and he even had organized a sound amplifying system so that people actually could hear his speech.


The winner of the International Gamers Awards - Multiplayer Category was non other than Russian Railroads from Helmut Ohley and Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler, and the authors happily took the awards together with publishers Bernd and Moritz Brunnhofer of HANS IM GLÜCK VERLAG.



In the two-player category the awards was given to Limes by Martyn F, and the Ferdinand presented the plaque to him and publisher ABACUSSPIELE.



Finally, Ferdinand took a minute to introduce all attending jury members to the crowd, and with Ronal Hoekstra, Scott Alden, Stuart Dagger, Mike Clifford, Han Heidema, Scott Alden, me, Andrea Ligabue, Ferdinand de Cassan, Knut Wolf and Mik Svellov a rather good portion of our committee had been attending the ceremony.


My co-author Ralf has made the pictures during the ceremony, but let's find out what he has been doing all day…

Hello all gamers out there, the SPIEL is back and today I am joining Frank doing our daily reports again. So here we go, let us start: My day at the SPIEL began with some delay. I was a little bit late, because I had to drive my son to the kindergarten and do some shopping, before I drove to the fair. So I was in a hurry, because before my first demo meeting for today I had planned to buy some games at the booth of JAPON BRAND. Knowing that they only have very few copies of each game, I reached their booth with mixed feelings. There was a long queue, but as there were no hints that any of their games was sold out, I got in line. No less than five minutes later a guy from the booth came with a sign declaring that exactly the two games I was heading for are now sold out. What a mess! If you still want to know what I was looking for: the games are called The Raven of Thri Sashari and Colours of Kasane. Especially the latter was on my buying list, because my wife is an enthusiastic hobby-sewist and the game thematises her hobby. Really annoying, next year I should really preorder...


After this first disappointment, I used the time to get some orientation by walking around in the halls to find the booths of my coming meetings. Especially tomorrow I will be in a hurry between the one and other appointment and so it is always good to know where you can find the booths in advance. After this first impression of the SPIEL I saw Pierre-Yves Franzetti of the Swiss publisher HELVETIA GAMES, who I had first met two years ago, when he presented his first two games in the world of Helvetia. In fact, it is the aim of HELVETIA GAMES that all of their games are settled in the fantasy country Helvetia that - surprise, surprise - has some remarkable similarities to Switzerland as we know it. Only the inhabitants maybe are a little bit strange to our world: allright for the Primitiva (Swiss men) and the Germans (a folk of engineers), more difficult for the Friburga (declared as Nuns, a special folk in a Swiss region) and the Hexagone (also called the Royal frogs, Austria?). In former games there were also vampires and other fantastic beings, but all of them had some remarkable resemblance to some of the real neighbours of the Swiss country. Pierre-Yves introduced me to his newest game Unita, but did also call my intention to a current kickstarter-campaign about new opponents for the older Helvetia Cup. As I really liked this crazy soccer game, I will have a look after the fair.

Playtesting Session: Unita (Helvetia Games, Booth 1-D103)

Anyway, let us talk about Unita. Setting up was quite easy. First of all we were given 16 dice of our colour that had to be turned to a specified number. This number is marked in red on each die. Then we had to put the dice on given positions for each player on a 8x7 grid, forming 4 companies consisting of four dice each. In the game each player follows a pattern for his colour on the map with thesedice-battalions. In a turn a player has three movement points, and whenever a battalion is moved next to a battalion of one of your opponents, it comes to a battle. Then - for each section (a section is defined as the two dice that meet head to head) the result of the combat is determined. The dice with the lowest number looses the fight and consequently one life point. As a result, it is turned to the next smaller number. In case of a tie, the dice behind the two connected dice are compared and the higher ones of this wins the battle. After a fight, the front-line is exchanged by taking the two dice from the front to the back-line and vice versa.

Every path for a battalion ends in the middle of the board at a gate. Battalions arriving here are put aside, but without changing the sides of the dice. After every battalion has reached the goal, the remaining values of the dice are calculated for each player and the player with the most points wins the game.

But that is not all: at the beginning of the game we can place terrains with special effects onto our path on the board. Entering a space with a terrain changes the rules, so that, for example, there is a territory in which each 1 of a dice counts as 5, quite useful shortly before reaching the gate when your battalions normally are weakened already.

In my playtesting game Unita turned out to be a very unique and entertaining game. It is not very complex, but it gives the players some very interesting possibilities to tactically influence the best outcomes of the battles. First you think it to be easy, but especially in the end game, you will feel your battalions pressing you forward into your opponents, because no battalion can overtake another. In contrast to some of the other games in the Helvetia game world, Unita seems truly to be a game for the whole family. I guess that it should not take longer than about 30-40 minutes. I was especially fascinated by the idea of forming a battalion out of four dice, determining the strength of the battalion by the dice without having the need to roll them. The dice as well as the rest of the game components seems to be of really good quality and also the graphical design is very nice.

As the HELVETIA GAMES booth is not far away from HEIDELBERGER I took the opportunity to have a look at their daily deals. As last years they are selling reduced game bundles for 50 euros and you get an additional voucher of 25 euros for buying more games at their booth. When I saw that one of the current deals was Netrunner with two expansions, I didn't hesitat and bought the deal. If you are also interested, you should check the booth regulary, because they are changing the deals quite often during the day.

Heavily loaded I went over to meet Elad Goldsteen of GOLDEN EGG GAMES. During the last year GOLDEN EGG GAMES has made some contracts with other publishers like GIOCHIX.IT, distributing their games and vice versa. But besides this, GOLDEN EGG GAMES came to Essen with two new games of its own to present them on this year's SPIEL.

Playtesting Session: Athlas - Duel for Divinity (Golden Egg Games, Booth 1-D146)

Athlas - Duel for Divinity is the first game by GOLDEN EGG GAMES that is not designed by Elad Goldsteen himself. The game focuses on the divine world of Athlas in which two players take the role of Athilians, some kind of half-gods, who - once come of age - are duelling each other. The winner of the fighting is chosen to be one of the next gods who is send to one of the other worlds around Athlas to be worshipped by mankind or whatever exists there. As it is quite typical for GOLDEN EGG GAMES, we are confronted with a huge board that easily gets to the limits of the tyical four person kitchen table. And that is only for a two player game... In other ways the game is equipped with rich game components as well: over 60 nicely moulded plastic figures and 170 skilfully designed cards are waiting to be set-up. Really impressing at first glance, but can the gameplay keep up? As I already had read the rules before the fair, I asked Elad to immediately start a game.

The game consists of two phases: in the first one you are designing three Alphas. An Alpha is more or less a pattern of a being which your Athilian can summon during the game. The creation is done by choosing from different genera, ability, equipment and spell cards from two identical sets of cards for each player. So, for example you could choose cards for a ranger that is equipped with a magical staff, an armour and two spells. Each genus card tells you the life points, the basic values for attacking and defending and how many things your being can carry in its hands. Besides, the spell points on the genus card determine which spells you can chose for the deck of your being. Some equipment increases your abilities, so for example you can improve your magical skills with a magical wand and thus take more and/or stronger spells for this being. The whole procedure must be done hidden from your opponent for each of your three Alphas. The whole phase is performed simultaneously, so a lot of speculation will occur about what your opponent's Alphas will look like.


In my demo game we skipped the creation phase and took pre-designed Alphas to begin the game immediately. But I guess that in a real game this phase is quite important, because the players will long to test their own beings and not some pre-designed characters. It is also a guarantee that no game of Athlas - Duel for Divinity will look the same. Although I did not test it, it seems to be very promising and I am sure that some games against an unexperienced opponent already can be won just by choosing better built-up Alphas than your opponent.

In the next phase, called the command phase, we send copies of our Alphas to the fighting zone. Every turn we can summon one additional being. This however costs us exactly as many summoning points as the sum of the costs of the different cards the Alpha is built from. So, for example, if the sum of the summoning points of all cards of an Alpha is 21, each copy of the Alpha that is sent to the board decreases our available summoning points by 21. As a result,here is no use to create Super-Alphas with too many cards for every situation, because the costs will be too high and you probably will not have the least chance to use all of the cards from this Alpha. It is better to specialize your Alphas for given game situations and different opponents and bring these specialists at lower costs so that a higher number can be put onto the board.

In the following phase we can activate our units on the board one by one. We begin with a movement and end with one action. Depending on the cards that were chosen for the Alpha, there are many possible actions, both passive ones (like a regeneration) and triggered ones. Attacks usually are ranged by the weapon we use. The fighting rules are quite simple: you just have to add all attack values of your cards and substract the defenders armor values to calculate the damage points. But there are three different types of attacks and not every Alpha that is good in defending melee attacks will also stand against powerful magic attacks. Another point to consider in combat is the territory you and your opponent stand on. Being on a higher level enables you to add a +2 modifier to the attack value. There is even the ability of "terraforming" for your Alpha: with this ability you can do harm to your opponent's being by changing the landscape, turning a field to a crater that is adjacent to a water tile.

To make things a bit more complex, each player has a set of divine intervention cards to break down the actions of his opponent. Some of these cards even can have a lasting effect for several rounds, so that they temporarily change part of the rules. Divine intervention cards are also taken in the creation phase and are sorted in an order that cannot be changed in the command phase. If you do not like your next divine intervention card, you only have the possibility to get rid of it by removing it from the game.


To try all of the possible actions of my pre-designed Alphas was so interesting that I nearly forgot the main aim of the game: after set-up we can find three relics in the middle of the board and it is our aim to hold at least two of these tokens to win the game. I personally liked the idea of designing my Alphas and sending copies of these to the arena very much. The game was easily set up, and the command phase turned out to be very fast-paced. The only problem was that I did not know my Alphas very well (as it were pre-designed Alphas), so I often had to re-read what they could do. As a result I was playing quite poorly and Elad easily took several of my summoned beings out of play. I finally gave up and we ended early, but Elad assured me that the normal game also takes only about 30 minutes plus the time you need to design your alphas. I would think that the creation phase will take some more time, especially if you do not know the cards too well, but overall the game should be playable in about an hour.

Having talked about GIOCHIX.IT with Elad I got the desire to go over to Michele's booth and have a look of what he is presenting this year.

Playtesting Session: Historia (Giochix.it, Booth 1F-139)

Civilization games have always been quite popular. Since the triumph of the famous computer game, back in the 90s of the last century, there were a lot of boardgames that adopted the theme sometimes more, sometimes less satisfying. Last year's Nations was definitely one of the best games of its kind and so it is no wonder that in the year after we are confronted with a lot more civilization games.

According to my taste Historia by Marco Pranzo, author of Upon a Salty Ocean, further developed by Michele Quondam seems to be one of the more promising ones. Typical for GIOCHIX.IT we are confronted with an abstract game. The major part of the board is covered by a development matrix on which we can move our development markers upwards by developing our military strength or to the right with the help of new technologies. As the development matrix expands from a single field on the left bottom diagonally up and to the right, you are forced to develop both strengths, at least whenever you reach the edge of the development matrix. Still, with progressing time the development matrix expands and so you can choose as a strategy to concentrate either on the military or the technology path. On the edge of the matrix we can see which civilization goals (military and technical) we already have reached. This on the one hand determines which actions we can perform during our turn. On the other hands a lot of leaders, that are given to the players at the beginning of the game and can be exchanged in some game situations, demand defined evolution progress to use their benefit.

Let us have a closer look to the action phase. At the beginning of a turn, each player chooses a number, according to his current action ability (depending on his technology level) of action and/or advisor cards from his hand. For this all players are equipped with an identical set of 10 action cards and the corresponding 5 advisor cards to the player's chosen civilization. In turn order the players resolve all of their played cards. Some of the cards require a minimum level in military or technology progress. Additionally a lot of actions cost power cubes. As we are only equipped with 4 of these cubes at the beginning of the game, you must carefully choose which action you really need at the precise moment. But with progressing time the players will get new power cubes. This is indicated by a time-line circle at the left bottom of the game board. On this circle we keep track of the turns we have played. Here is also indicated what special effects are carried out at the end of a turn. Each of the three Eras of the game consist out of four turns.

Coming back to the actions there is an interesting rule. Once an action card is played and carried out, it is placed face up in a discard queue of the player. With some actions the players can take back some of these cards into their hand, but you always must consider that it can take you a long time to get back the cards you have just played. So hand management is an important part of the game. Advisor cards on the other hand are removed from the game after carrying out their benefits, so they should be carefully used.

Next to the military and technology action I have described before, you can build wonders (taking a wonder card that gives you additional benefits), exploit your population (recovers up to 2 power cubes you have used before), trade with other civilizations (which gains you an additional technology level, expand your civilization on a map, raid your neighbours (this recovers power cubes, too, as well as victory points) and declare war to them (victory points).

Now I have to explain the last section on the board, the world map. This can be found in the right bottom. Similar to Risk we can see a segmented map of the world where we can expand our nation. The last four actions I have mentioned, correlate to this map, determining who is your nation's neighbour. Only countries next to yours can be raided, traded with or fight against. Expanding your civilization on the other hand let you place one of your power cubes to an adjacent country to your occupied countries.

With progressing time we will be able to do advance actions that can be found on the action cards, too. But only if we have the requirements by advancing on the development matrix, we will be in a position to use these actions.

At the beginning of the game all those different actions and the abstract game design is somewhat a little bit confusing. But I soon got used to it, because every card and result gets along with clear symbols, without an explaining text. Once I understood the different symbols (a reference sheet helps you with that) I had no problem choosing my cards. Still it does not seem to be a short game. I think it can easily take you 2 hours. Quite typical for Giochix.it there is a lot to be considered when choosing your different possible actions. So I think that the game is definitely not suited for the typical casual gamer. Also gamers who are looking for a simple game of civilization and players who need to expand their civilization visibly (in having more cards, more power, bigger countries etc.) might be disappointed. Sure, we have the map, but it is very small on the board and it only is used to determine your neighboured nations. Historia is more suited for the subtle, strategic gamer, who has no problem with abstract games. To my mind - being fond of most other titles by GIOCHIX.IT - it should be definitely worth a try-out. I need some more try-outs for being sure, but at the moment I think that Historia offers a deep game depth, once you have overcome the first two or three turns.

Unfortunatly I forgot to took a photo from Historia. But as Michele told me that tomorrow I would have the chance to meet Marco Pranzo, the author of the game, I will come back with it and give it to you another day. So that's it for today. For now, I will leave you alone with Frank. Stay tuned and see you tomorrow again.

Sounds like a threat to leave you alone with me! Anyway, we better continue…

Myself, I had been busy part of the afternoon to meet some press people from various publishers, but the most interesting meeting was with Matthieu Bonin from IELLO. We chatted a bit about their Zombie '15-Kickstarter campaign and he told me that they have been rather happy with the outcome of the campaign because they had been able to make the best equipped version of the game available for an acceptable price. For IELLO the project had been extraordinary in so far as they do not usually have to resort to Kickstarter to produce their "normal" games, but in the future they will still assist smaller associated non-US-based publishers with their projects. Concerning the new games, I was quite curious about King of New York and in how far it could be considered as a clone of King of Tokyo. Despite the fact that the monsters in both games are interchangeable, King of New York offers some more elements of gameplay, and so the players now can move through different parts of New York, fighting army defense units on their destructive way. Sounds fun and I hope to present some news about this game at a later time! By the way, German readers interested in this game might like to hear that German copies of the game have been delivered to HEIDELBERGER this afternoon!


But let's continue now with some more gaming!

Playtesting Session: Höyük (MAGE COMPANY, Booth 3-O103)

Sometimes already the name of a new boardgame stirs up my curiosity, and in case of Pierre Canuel's Hoyuk I was indeed wondering how this unusal name could be explained. The game's background story gives us no immediate connection - it is about human settlements in the Neolithic period approximately 10.000 years ago. Okay, the rules also state that the game takes place in Anatolia, a province of modern Turkey. Equipped with this information a google-query brought me to Çatal Höyük, a neolithic settlement which was located near the modern city of Konya in south central Turkey. The area was inhabited 9000 years ago by up to 8000 people who lived together in a large town, and Çatal Höyük is of special archeological importance because it has witnessed the transition of human life from an exclusive hunting and gathering subsistence to increasing skill in plant and animal domestication. So, Çatal Höyük is a turning point of one of man's most important transformations: from nomad to settler. And this finally brings us back to Pierre's boardgame, since the game indeed focuses on the players forming settlements and starting community life.

However, with humans coming together, there will always be some kind of rivalry, and in case of Hoyuk the players compete for most buildings and for most villagers, cattle, pens, ovens and shrines attached to their buildings. At the end of each round of play these different categories will be evaluated for each village (block of buildings) on the gameboard, and the respective player leading in each category is entitled to claim a valuable Aspect card for each of his leading categories. These Aspect cards can be used either for additional actions or turned into victory points, but more about them later.

Depending on the number of players, each player starts the game with an amount of 20 or 25 buildings of his own colour. During the course of the game they will slowly place the buildings from their stockpiles onto the gameboard, and the placement of a player's final building will herald the end of the game at the end of the current round. All other features like shrines, ovens, villagers or cattle come from common stocks, and the building allowance for each player is determined by a random distribution of construction cards which takes place at the beginning of each round. These cards have in common that all of them give a total of three building actions, but apart from the two normal buildings which can be found on each card the third action varies between a fixed feature or a feature of the player's choice.

At the beginning of the game the gameboard is empty, and so the players will start to place new buildings and cattle pens onto the board to form settlements. Here some placement rules need to be observed, and most prominent among these are the requirements that a player's buildings within a village need to be adjacent to each other (forming a "family") and that different villages cannot be joined together through placement of a new building. Buildings and cattle pens are placed directly onto the gameboard, whereas other features like ovens, shrines, villagers and cattle are placed within existing buildings or pens. As indicated, each village on the gameboard will be evaluated for each different feature at the end of a round, and so the players will try to get a leading position in as many categories as possible within each village.

This brings up the question why players actually should place buildings in a village started by another player. The rules explained so far might sound as if it could be most profitable for each player to build his own exclusive village, but this approach has been blocked by the rule that a village will only be evaluated for its features if it consists of buildings of more than one player. So, it's not really sensible for players to stay on their own, and this forces them into competition with each other.

At this point a game which may initially have sounded like a simple placement game gets tricky and fascinating at the same time. Not only the aforementioned rule for the scoring of village-features forces the players to diversify, but also the nature of the Aspect cards which can be earned by these evaluations. Each Aspect card either can be used for placing an additional building, shrine, oven etc., or it may be collected to get more cards of the same feature in order to discard them together to gain victory points. The bigger the group of cards discarded, the more victory points can be earned. However, both usages of the Aspect cards face a hard limitation, and so a player only can use as many Aspects cards each round as he has families (i.e. buildings in different villages). So, a player who focuses on just a few villages will not be able to play/discard many Aspect cards, and this would cut him off from the most important source of victory points.

Diversification is pronounced even further by the fact that the decks of Aspect cards awarded for leadership in each feature are limited. The players are allowed to "feed" these decks by placing used Aspects cards back, but if a deck ever should run out of Aspect cards it can no longer be replenished with used cards. So, players who concentrate too much on just one or two kinds of features may find themselves in a position where their leadership in these features becomes useless due to lack of Aspect cards, and so players with a liking for monoculture need to keep an extra eye on the deck of Aspect cards corresponding to their strong feature(s).

Quite interesting for a placement game is also the high degree of dynamism on the gameboard. Usually strategic placement games trend to develop more or less stagnant areas in the center of the gameboard, since new tiles normally are added at the borders of the placement area. Here Hoyuk goes a quite different way with the features likes villagers, ovens and shrines which are placed into existing buildings, and this effect is even further augmented by the deck of Catastrophe cards from which one card is revealed during each round. Life must have been hard in the year 8000 B.C., and so catastrophes like draught, epidemics, wolves or fires may have a really hard impact on the one or other village. These events do not come fully at random, but their effects are applied to villages which have most or fewest units of a specific feature, and so the players have some basic possibilities to include the upcoming catastrophes in their future plans.

Hoyuk is a perfect example of the high quality of games which may be produced via a Kickstarter-campaign. The concept of the game had been introduced and awarded at a French game designer contest as early as 2007, but as it seems Pierre had not been able to attract any of the major publishing houses to invest into this game. With Kickstarter, every good idea has an opportunity to achieve publication if enough investors can be convinced, and here Pierre was lucky to come across MAGE COMPANY, a publisher with good experience of crowdfunding projects in recent years. As a result, the interesting mechanisms designed by Pierre could be outfitted with nice artwork and solid wooden components which all contribute to the game's atmosphere. Taking all this together, the backers have been awarded with a very professional final product, and it's great to see that the game now is available for a broader public.


During my transfer to the next booth I shortly teamed up with my friends Daniela, Melanie and Johannes from Cologne. The convention halls were rather crowded today, and so we were lucky to get some spaces on a table which featured a big version of MATAGOT's Origin, and even though the game was from last year they started a round because they were just happy to find some seats.



For me the final venue of the day was as remote as Hall 4 were the Merz Verlag had placed some newcomer publishers. I had dicovered a game from French publisher BLUE COCKER GAMES at the newsshow, and so I tracked down the booth of this publisher.

Playtesting Session: Medieval Academy (Blue Cocker, Booth 4-A118)

Over the last few years many games coming from French and Belgian publishers featured comic-like artwork which was created by Pierô Lalune, and it was indeed this artwork which did draw me to check out the game Medieval Academy from the 2014-founded publishing house BLUE COCKER GAMES. I always has a soft spot for games with heroic knights and beautiful damsels, and so it was no question for me that this cardgame which focuses on a knight's training needed to be played.

Indeed, a squire's education is quite hard, and so the players have to harden their characters in seven different disciplines, since only the squire who outdoes all his competitors will be knighted by the king. The available disciplines are Gallantry, Jousts, Tournaments, Education, King's Service, Quests and Charity, and each of them is presented as a small gameboard which is framed by a track where the players can mark their current score in this discipline.

The game runs over a total of six rounds, and at the end of each round some of the disciplines will be scored. The leading players on each board will receive victory points which are collected in form of shields which are kept face down in front of the players. As indicated, some disciplines will not be scored every round, and so the King's Service board only will be scored twice during the game, and the Quests and Charity boards only will be scored once at the end of the very last round. However, these boards are much more valuable than the other boards which are scored every round, and so the players will have to balance which disciplines they should learn.

This leaves the question on which mechanism the game operates. Backbone for Medieval Academy is a quite classic drafting mechanism, and so each turn begins with each player receiving a random hand of 5 Learning cards which are matching some of the 7 disciplines and have different values. These cards are drafted, so that the players always chose one card and hand the rest towards their left/right neighbor until the drafting is over. Now the players begin to play the cards from their hand, with each player playing one card and adjusting his current score on the corresponding discipline board. This goes on until all players only have one card left, and this final card is not used but discarded.

Medieval Academy is a quite good example how a rather well-know basic playing mechanism can be revamped if it is environed with some good ideas and simple but attractive rules. The game on hand enriches the drafting mechanism by the specialties associated with each discipline, and apart from the different times of scoring other features are board resets which happen on some boards and a reversed scoring on the Charity board where the last player(s) will be penalized. A special role also takes the Gallantry board, since this board always is scored first at the end of each round. No victory points can be gained here, but instead the leading players will be allowed to adjust their scoring on a board of their choice, thus possibly causing some change in the ranking after the round's cardplay is over.

A good sense of for timing is absolutely crucial to survive a knight's apprenticeship, and Medieval Academy especially shines with its short-timed action circle and the good overview of the current rankings which can be gained by a quick glimpse at the different discipline boards. This easy accessibility of all necessary in-game information allows the players to focus on the card drafting, with each player trying to find his best possibilities among the circulating cards.

Finally, author Nicolas Poncin also recognized the fact that some players might like some more fancy options in a game, and for these players he has included variant rules for each of the seven discipline gameboards. Whereas a good handful of alternative rules sometimes might suggest that the author could not really decide what was best for his game, this is different with Medieval Academy because all the variant rules lead to somewhat different handling of the disicplines. So, the players can really opt between a pure head-on-head drafting game or a customized version, and I guess that this just strengthens the replayability of Medieval Academy.

A nice debut for novice publisher Alain Balay of BLUE COCKER GAMES!


Well, this brings me nearly to the end of today's report, but I have to add that my frined Ignacy has sponsored a cool set of promos for Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island for the Prize Draw!


So, don't forget to sign my SPIEL Guestbook if you want to win any of these items!



Just going to slepp, but I totally forgot something!

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. Once again Ryan Laukat, one of my favourite game designers, has created a downloadable mini-expansion for his new game The Ancient World for my SPIEL-reports, and even though he cannot make it to the SPIEL this year due to some travelling problems I would like to say a big "THANK YOU" for providing this nice extra!


Rules: When a player sends a citizen here, he may pay 1 coin to temporarily gain 1 sword. He may then immediately draw the top 3 Titans and attack one of them. This temporary sword can count for additional Titan attacks in the round.

The game is available here at the SPIEL at the booth of SCHWERKRAFT-VERLAG, 3-P113. I will be there for some playtesting later this week!

But now - sleeping time! (2nd try...)

Friday, 17th of October 2014

Essen time - typing time!

After last night's blackout about my convention giveaway for The Ancient World I just hope that I won't forget anything today. Boy, the day has been busy, and I have seen a wagonload full of interesting games. It's actually quite hard to get all the information straight, but I hope that I can decipher all scribbled notes from my notebook. Well, let's start with a first playtesting session right away!

Playtesting Session: Nations - The Dice Game (Lautapeli, Booth 3-B108, 3-H115, 3-H116 - Asmodee)

Civilization-type games always have been rather popular especially among gamers and serious hobbyists, and over the last few years the choice of games following this topic has been considerably enriched both by CGE's Through the Ages and the somewhat easier accessible Nations from Finnish publisher LAUTAPELI. However, building a whole civilization certainly takes some time, and so many of the games from this field have playing durations of two hours and up, sometimes accompanied by rather bulky rules with lots of details for research, conquest, and age-spanning advancement. A somewhat off-mainstream exception to this general trend is Matt Leacock's Roll Through the Ages, a Yatzhee clone which sees the players collect resources and food to advance with their civilizations. However, Roll Through the Ages found its limits due its rather simplified approach, and so the players can build some cities and monuments and develop some advances, but the development of the civilizations does not even leave Bronze Age. So, the market still is in need of a nice, short civilization game, and that's the moment where Nations The Dice Game steps into the spotlight. I was happy when the game's designer Rustan Hakansson agreed to meet me for a demo session at the SPIEL '14, and so we met this morning, went to the business lounge and plounged into a rollercoaster ride from antiquity to modern times.


Rustan was one of the developers of the aforementioned Nations boardgame, and as it seems he must have felt a calling to make this outstanding game accessible for an even greater circle of gaming enthusiasts. So, he created Nations The Dice Game, and indeed he did not only succeed in incorporating many elements of the big boardgame into this new version, but he can also claim that he has found a good balance between the complexity needed for a civilization- game and the simplicity which can usually be expected of a dicegame.

The game runs over a total of four ages (rounds of play), and at the beginning of each age each of the players takes his hand of dice in order to determine his available resources for the upcoming round. Instead of numbers the 44 dice included in Nations The Dice Game have faces showing gold, stone, food, books and strength, and the number and kind of dice available to each player is determined by the five buildings and military cards available on each player's own civilization board. At the beginning of the game all players start with an equal hand of 5 white dice, but during the course of the game they may acquire buildings and military cards which will slowly cover their initial buildings. The new cards will have their own dice allowance, and so the simple white dice slowly will be replaced by more efficient blue, orange and red dice showing advanced faces with multiple symbols. In a way, this replacement of a player's starting dice reminds of Andreas Seyfarth's Airships (Giganten der Lüfte) where the players could modify their hand of dice by acquiring equipment cards, but apart from this more general observation both games are not really similar.

The new building and military cards are available from a common progress board, and together with cards showing wonders, colonies and advisors a new choice of available cards is revealed on the board at the beginning of each age. The players can use their turn's action to acquire one of the cards from the progress board, and the price of the card in gold or strength is determined by the card's position on the progress board, ranging from a value of "1" to "3". This price may be paid by using dice or chits provided by conquered colonies and built wonders, and the new card then is placed onto the player's board, replacing one of the five cards on the board (this applies to buildings and military cards - wonders and advisors do not take one of the five slots).

In comparison to Roll Through the Ages Rustan has nicely avoided longer periods of downtime by a one-to-one implementation of the turn structure found in Nations. So, each player just is allowed to take one action before the next player follows, and this keeps the game fluent because each player will perform quick actions and has enough time to think while the other players act. In connection with this stands a quite neat handling of the newly acquired buildings and military cards. As mentioned, these cards usually provide better dice than the card they replace, and this replacement of dice is made immediately upon acquiring the new card. This means that the active player can remove one of his already used dice from his stockpile, take the new dice from the general stock and roll and use it during the same round. This procedure of immediate replacement corresponds quite well with the comparatively short duration of four ages, because an investment to get better dice pays off already during the age in which the investment is made.

Advisors and colonies are known from Nations, but they have found their place in Nations The Dice Game as well. So, colonies may be acquired for strength-symbols, and instead of replacing dice colonies usually provide chits showing resource symbols. These chits are refreshed at the beginning of each age, and so they effectively are an additional income which may be used in addition to the symbols from the player's dice. Advisors on the other hand provide chits with re-rolls, allowing the active player to re-roll some or all of his unused dice if he is out of matching resources. However, Rustan went one step further to mitigate the influence of luck, and so it is allowed to trade resources on a 2-to-1 basis, thus giving players access to some desperately needed resources. In fact, this trading option is really important to prevent a player from getting stuck with otherwise useless dice, and the game simply would be too short if a player in this situation would be forced to wait for better luck during the next round.

Another well known element from Nations are wonders like the Pyramids or the Terracotta Army. They are acquired normally from the progress board, but the player needs some additional stone-resources to build them. When a wonder is finished, it may provide some kind of chit just like a colony, but it also has a value in victory points which will count in the final evaluation after the fourth age. Some of the other buildings, advisors and colonies may bring victory points as well, but there are also some possibilities to score points during the course of the game. So, the players may use book symbols to make progress on the knowledge track, and they will score victory points at the end of each age depending on their relative positions on this track. In addition, an event tile showing values for famine and war will be revealed at the beginning of each age, and a player who can meet the required quotas of food/strength at the end of the age also will be awarded victory points.

As can be seen, in Nations The Dice Game the players strictly focus on the progress of their own civilization, and so player interaction remains indirect by competing for the best cards on the progress board and by scoring in-game victory points during the end-of-age knowledge scorings. I am usually quite fond of games which offer some means of direct interaction, but in case of Nations The Dice Game it must be conceded that the use of dice plus direct interaction through wars or something similar would have lead to major balancing problems which could only be tackled through an increase of playing time (i.e. more turns etc). However, this would destroy the general scope of the game, and so I prefer Nations The Dice Game as it is. In fact, I have to confess that I am quite smitten with Rustan's design, since he really succeeded in creating a faithful dice-version of Nations. There have been many tries to create dice-clones of successful boardgames, but there has hardly been a dicegame which could keep up with its major boardgame sibling. This is totally different with Nations The Dice Game, since it gives the players an interesting choice of options apart from simply combining and using dice. For a dicegame, the implementation of the civilization-topic is outstanding, and considering the fact that the weaker Roll Through the Ages was able to gain a nomination for Spiel des Jahres in 2010 I think that this game would deserve to do even better!

By the way, the visitors here at Essen seems to share my opinion, since the stocks at the ASMODEE-booths are diminishing quite rapidly. Rustan had told me that 500 copies have been brought, and now ASMODEE probably will just have a fee copies left for sale on saturday and sunday.


This has been a splendid start into my second convention day, but my next interesting meeting was waiting for me right afterwards. So, I made my way over into Hall 1, and here I went to the booth of CGE to check out Alchemists, a game which had caused a real hype once the rulebook had been released.

Playtesting Session: Alchemists (CGE, 1-D140)

During the last days one game had been dominating the Hotlist at Boardgamegeek, and this was no other than Alchemists by Matus Kotry. The game had been announced by CZECH GAMES EDITION - CGE as their "big" new game for the SPIEL '14, and once the rules had been released the game quickly jumped on top of the Hotness list. This had been an interesting development in so far as Matus is a newcomer designer, but on the other hand CGE has a standing record of creating outstanding gamer's games (Dungeon Lords, Tzolkin, Galaxy Trucker) and so it can be understood that people were flocking to the entry in order to find out more about this new game.

Already the story behind Alchemists choses a somewhat unusual angle, because the players actually will run fantasy laboratories in which they are going to brew and test a number of different potions. Eight different kinds of ingredients exist in the game, and whenever two of them are mixed the results may be helpful potions of healing, wisdom or speed, neutral liquids or even horrid poison or potions of paralysis or insanity. At the beginning of the game the outcome of each combination of ingredients is unknown to the players, and during the game they will slowly discover what kinds of potions can be created with the different ingredients.

However, the deduction mechanism behind this goes much deeper than simply throwing two ingredients together and watching the outcome. Before the game starts, each ingredient had been assigned a random molecular composition (called Alchemicals), consisting of a red, a blue and a greed aspect which are either positive or negative. Unknown to the players, it will be the combination of these aspects of two ingredients which will cause the particular outcome of an experiment, but the players actually will be able to take conclusions from this outcome, allowing them to narrow down the possible Alchemicals behind each of the two ingredients which had been used. To assist the players with this task of finding matching Alchemicals, each player has a big Laboratory-screen where he can secretly mark the ingredients which have been used, and this matrix will slowly allow them to conclude which Alchemicals may be behind each ingredient used in the game.

That may sound quite scientific, but in the end it is an interesting, not too cumbersome task of deduction which is actually quite challenging. In order to negate the necessity of a gamemaster, the game actually needs an app which tells the players the outcome of a particular experiment, and so the players need to have at least one mobile phone or a pad-computer onto which this (free) app has been loaded. During play, a player will scan the ingredients he wants to mix with the device's camera, and then the device will reveal the result of the experiment. All this works rather smoothly, and for players without a mobile device there is also a possibility to use a web-based app where the ingredient cards are not scanned but chosen. In addition, the game even includes a "gamemaster"-mode where one player takes the role of an all-knowing entity who will give the results to the other players. This may not be an attractive alternative because usually everybody will want to play, but if the game is going to be taught to newcomers it may actually help if the explaining person is in control of the game.

Talking about the game, all I have done so far is explaining the experimental nature of combining different ingredients, but of course all this has been embedded into an intricate playing mechanism, something which has become the trademark of many CGE games. So, the big gameboard actually shows a city with different locations, and here the players can perform different actions based on a worker placement routine. There are action spaces for gaining and selling ingredients and to buy helpful lab equipment which will allow various benefits, but most important for the players' careers as novice alchemists will be the spaces which allow the brewing and testing of potions - either on a hapless student or as a self-experiment. Of course the testing on a student will be preferred due to the possibility of a negative potion, but each round's student only will cooperate until he has first been exposed to a negative potion. In this case he will not be satisfied by helping scientific progress anymore - now it will cost a coin to get him to try a potion. Sipping a potion yourself is - of course - free, but if it is a negative potion the player's will have to live with the effects. A potion of insanity lets you do some unspeakable acts which will cost you reputation, a potion of paralysis will give you the last position in next round's player order, and poison will cost you an action cube in the following round. But heck - it's all for scientific progress! (and the players hopefully will be able to make some useful notes on the test results back in their laboratory).

Each round the city also will be visited by an adventurer who is looking for specific potions (as listed on his card), and the players also may try to sell potions to him. Of course it is best if a player really knows how to buy one of the potions demanded by the adventurer, but there is always room for improvisation, and so a player can give a restricted guarantee to the adventurer, lowing the sales price but allowing for different kinds of errors in the mixture. If a potions is to be sold this way, the player will once again consult the electronic device, and once again the results of this "experiment" can be noted in order to gain insights on the ingredients' Alchemicals.

When a player is certain to have found the Alchemical which is matching a particular ingredient (or if he is just confident), he can go ahead and publish his theory about the composition of that ingredient. Published theories will bring reputation, and even a grant may be in reach for showing particular scientific enthusiasm. Depending how certain a publishing player is, he will accompany his publication with a face-down seal marker, and these seals will be revealed by the end of the game. Some seals are blanks, just denoting that the player had published a theory on an ingredient, whereas other seals show victory point values which will be scored if the player has chosen the right Alchemical, but they will be deducted if he has been wrong.

Talking about wrong theories, there is of course a possibility to prove a player's false theory right within the game. So, a player who has a better idea can initiate a scientific debate on another player's theory, and once again the outcome of this will be determined by the use of the electronic device. If a theory is debunked this way, all seals will be revealed and their owners will loose reputation, whereas the newcomer immediately will have an option to publish a theory of his own. On the other hand, another player's theory also may be endorsed by players who have come to the same conclusion, but adding a seal to an already existing theory will cost some coins (co-authorship has its price).

This description actually should give a rough impression how the game is running. At its core we will find the deductive challenge to find out the correct Alchemicals for each ingredient, and around this task Martus Kotry has constructed a versatile action mechanism which covers all sides of an alchemist's career. There are many features which have not yet been mentioned like the interesting mechanism to determine player order, the lab equipment which may even help spying on other players, citizen favor cards which may come in quite handy in various situations, and even scientific conferences are included to allow the players to boast about their research. All this contributes to a quite complex game, but the author has included apprentice rules which can be used to make things a bit easier.

Really interesting is the fact that I cannot remember having seen a game which actually offers a combination of an interesting deductive challenge with a good, deep playing mechanism. Here much praise can be attributed to Martus Kotry because he has done a wonderful job to bring the different elements together, and even the electronic device plays an important and useful part because it can be used to randomize each game anew without the help of a gamemaster.


A note on the crazy side is the fact that the app has been released for several devices by now, but it needed correction to survive the APPLE quality checks. Here it was actually stopped because it needs the components of the boardgame to be of any use, but it was approved by APPLE when CGE added the alternative option not to take a photography of the cards but to actually chose them by hand within the app. No comment on this one…

On the positive side, the Galaxy Trucker app which had been released just a few weeks ago is a real hit. The game faithfully implements the boardgame, letting the players either compete against each other or sending a single player in a campaign through the universe. Since the release I have done more than 555 flight days, and I guess that my friends will unanimously vote for heavily handicapping me when we play the boardgame again. However, if you should contemplate to get this app, please be aware that it is absolutely addictive. Especially the campaign includes many interesting ship designs and a load of funny characters, many of them based on real CGE-people like Vlaada Chvatil and Petr Murmak. Just check out their buttons…



After this long morning I really needed a break, and since Nicole was preparing lunch I took my big bags of games and walked 3 minutes to my home. There I added the games to the growing piles and enjoyed a nice lunch. But with me taking a break, let's have a look what Ralf has been doing all day!



My day began at the booth of Historical Games Factory, where I had an appointment to have a look at their new games. I was expecting a demo of Heroes, the first of their games without a historical background. But when I reached there I had to learn that unfortunatly the production of the dice were delayed, so they did not get any copies for the convention. Instead of this Piotr ?uchowski of Historical Games Factory suggested to have a try-out of their second world war game First to Fight. I must say that I - especially as a German - sometimes have problems with war games about the second world war. The main reason is that I am not sure whether it is already the time to play games about this darkest time of the European history. On the other hand, I started my boardgame career with games like Axis & Allies, so I sat down and let Piotr explain the rules to me.

Playtesting session: First to Fight (Fabryka Gier Historycznych / Historical Games Factory, Booth 2-D118)

The title First to Fight refers to the attack of Poland, being the first country that was raided by the Wehrmacht in 1939. A lot of the Polish soldiers were forced to go underground, some even to other countries, but a lot of them continued fighting against Germany from wherever they were. So in the game the players are sending those soldiers to the different regions of the second world war to accomplish missions that were given to them.

At the beginning of the game each player gets four mission cards for various time periods. A mission card tells you in which region and at which time there will be a combat. Additionally it tells you the strength that must be beaten by the soldiers in that particular region and which kind of soldiers can help you with that. Once you know that your aim is to send enough soldiers to that region, so that, when the time has come, the combat can be won. If you succeed, you get the indicated victory points on the mission cards, if not this mission card counts as a minus 5. The problem is that all players have their own mission cards and the soldiers do not belong to anybody, but can be moved by other players to different regions, too.

Thinking of a typical war game I was quite astonished that the game mechanics are very similar to Puerto Rico. So next to the board you have six different orders you can choose from. Whenever an order is chosen, it is turned over and cannot be chosen by any other player until it is activated again by the order Maneuvers. Once an order is chosen, it is carried out by every player. Aditionally the player who chose the order gets a special bonus with that order.


So let us have a look at the different orders: first of all you can do a Recruitment, bringing new soldiers to the game. For this you take a given number of new soldiers and choose one of them to send him to any region of the board that was not chosen by another player before. All soldiers are specialists, for example a paratrooper or a saboteur, which is extremely important for the missions. Also most soldiers give the player a special action after the card is placed next to the board.

Movement is another important order. To carry it out, you must choose one of the soldiers who are in play and can place one of them to an adjacent region of Europe. Training is an order to improve the soldiers' skills, strength and underground, that are important for the missions respectively the sabotage orders. In the sabotage order you check the sum of all of the soldiers' underground skills at any region. This result must reach the sabotage level of an axis domination track where we keep track of the region's strength. Finally there is the order of concentration. With this the player move a concentration token to a region and this results in preventing other people from moving soldiers of a specific type in that region.

The round ends whenever a player has chosen the Maneuver order. If there are still any order that have not yet be chosen, they are given a victory point for the next round, similar to Puerto Rico again. A card from the mission ending deck then tell us, how many steps the time marker moves. After that all mission cards that have an earlier or the same date as the time marker tells us, are carried out. All soldiers at the mission's region contribute to the combat, but only soldiers of the same type as indicated on the mission card can contribute with their full strength. All other only count as strength 1. The total is compared to the difficult level of the mission plus the actual strength modifier of the region indicated on the domination track.


If you already know Puerto Rico, First to Fight is quite easy to learn. The mechanism of choosing the orders is more or less the same. But the results of the orders are totally different, so it would be wrong to compare the two games. Together with Piotr I had a try-out as a two player game. In this constellation I think it was quite interesting, but I guess it is better to play with three or four people, because with only two players it is quite easy to guess what might be the next mission of your opponent. First to Fight is a game about war, but it is not a typical war game. If there was a different theme, it also could be used as a family game. All soldiers have their historical background and the game even wets appetite for learning more about the persons it is about and the Polish underground fight in general. So my initial doubts were cleared up and I could go over to the other new game by Historical Games Factory to have an introduction, too:

Introduction: Ark of Animals (Fabryka Gier Historycznych / Historical Games Factory, Booth 2-D118)

Ark of Animals is a simple game of memory in which each player has to fill his ark as fast as possible. All players play simultaneously and take from face down animal tokens in the middle of the table. Each player also has an ark player board with five columns that must be filled one by one. So, beginning with the most left column, you take an animal, look at it and decide whether to put it into your ark or leave it (then face up) on the table. In the latter case it can be taken by other players or by yourself at some future time.

As you will remember from the bible it should be your goal to take with you one representative of every species. You might be tempted to think that it is quite easy, but in the game animals are put face down again into the ark, and so you will have to remember which animals you have already taken to be in your ark (Noah had a decisive advantage here - he could visit the holds…). After a player has announced the end (his ark is filled up) and all other players had 30 more seconds to catch up, the arrangement of the animals is checked for each ark.

This could still be quite easy, if there were not some special rules to bear in mind: first of all, after ending the game you must check if there are not any predators in your ship that have eaten up smaller herbivore animals (they would be removed from the ark). Of course all doubles are also removed (remember the bible). And then, for the experienced players, there is a check if the grain supplies in your ship are eliminated by the herbivores (minus points) and if the ark is still in balance. To check the latter the weight of the animals on either side of the boat is summed up. If there is a difference in weight, this results in more minus points for the player. Finally the number of all remaining animals on the ship is added to the minus points of the checks plus some final bonus points for the fastest player, for the player who was successful in bringing complete sets of different kinds of animals to his ark and for the player with the most mammals.

Ark of Animals at once reminded me on Arche Opti Mix by Doris & Frank. In both games you must skillfully fill an ark and not any animal likes to be next to a different kind. Also the balancing of the ark is one of the challenges in both games. But here the similarities end. While Arche Opti Mix is a tactical game, Ark of Animal is a fast-paced memory game. Due to the different experience levels you can introduce for each player, it seems to be a great family game. Smaller children can play with only part of the rules for checking if your ark is correctly filled up and older children as well as grown-ups can gradually adjust their difficulty level to perfectly balance the game.

After these two historical games I was longing for something totally different. Why not one of the various new storytelling games? No sooner said than done and I found myself sitting on a comfortable chair with Lorenzo Silva of HORRIBLE GAMES. To be honest, I am not exactly what you would call a fanatic in story telling games. Indeed my last experience dates back to 2002. It was Whitsun, my wife and I were camping together with two friends and I was explaining the rules of Once upon a time. I do not know why and for what reason, but I remember well that none of us liked the game very much. In fact, it was very hard to unfold the story and we finally gave up. Several years later I sold the game on Ebay and I was astonished that it aroused a great deal of interest (at least for such a small game). But up to now, I usually steer clear of the genre. It is not that I do not like it. But my experience was that a lot of people have problems creating their story, especially if they have can take a lot of time for it like in Once upon a time.

Introduction: Co-Mix (Horrible Games, Booth 3L-116)

When I heard that Lorenzo Silva has founded a spin-off of CRANIO CREATIONS to produce games of his own, I was sure we would get new crazy and funny board games like Dungeon Fighter and Steampark. But what was that: Co-Mix: a story telling game. Wasn't it for Lorenzo and for the announcement that I should try the game, I would probably not have come in contact with this game.

But so I was finding myself sitting with my son at the booth of HORRIBLE GAMES (that of course is the name of the spin-off) and Lorenzo was explaining the rules to us. In Co-Mix the players must create a comic page. For this they are given panels in form of a lot of funny illustrated cards (150 cards with illustrations on the front- and backside) and have to create a short comic plot (surprise, surprise...), that has to be told to the other players afterwards. To make things more complicated, each player is given a theme for his story by one of his opponents, e.g. housework, before he gets his cards.

Because it is a comic strip, the story should be told very quick, a feature I appreciated a lot after my experience with Once upon a time. Indeed there is a stopwatch and the time the first player has taken for telling his story, determines the time for all other player, too. After each player has told his story, all the different comics are reviewed by each other. And so it comes to a scoring, fame and finally a winner of the game.

To my surprise I at once fell in love with the game. Why this I asked myself. I think the main reason are the funny inspirational illustrations that nearly automatically lead you to create a crazy story around your theme. And that is definitely what you also would have expected with Lorenzo Silva as the author of the game. I think that the storytelling as well as the comments will cause a lot of laughter at our table in the next weeks. And as a result I definitely will give storytelling games another chance and I will exactly begin with this game.


Wow, that was really an interesting experience. And now I also was ready again for some more fights, but this time I chose the fantasy world. Since the announcement of the Hobbit movies three years ago, we are - comparable to the time when the Lord of the Rings movies were released - confronted with a growing number of games that try to exploit the success in the cinemas. Some of them are purely merchandising products, lacking all of what's important for a gamer's heart. Others are better in putting a game concept around the story, but few are really worth buying them, giving the players more than just rolling dice and moving characters on a board, illustrated with an episode from the Hobbit.

One of the best games about the War of the Ring and in my opinion also a real milestone in game designing was the identically named game by PHALANX GAMES. Hard to believe that this has already been ten years ago. After the disappearance of PHALANX GAMES, ARES GAMES and a lot of other distributors took care of the game, publishing a new version and a very special Collector's edition in the last years. And so it was only a matter of time, when the designer team would accept the challenge to create a new game based on the War of the Ring in the world of the Hobbit.

Introduction: The Battle of Five Armies (ARES Games, Booth 3E-100)

As can be concluded from the title, The Battle of Five Armies concentrates on the final battle of the book. As this episode will be screened in the cinemas at the end of this year, it is quite clever to release the game at this SPIEL. As I already had a glimpse at the minis during the SPIEL '13 and War of the Ring is still one of my favourite games, I was really longing for the demo meeting today. Again I had an appointment with Roberto Di Meglio, author of both games and also responsible for the production, and here, at the booth of ARES games, I finally got an introduction to the game.

The Battle of Five Armies is a pure two-player game in which one player takes the roll of the free people, commanding the Elves with the Elven King Thranduil, the Dwarves of Dáin Ironfoot and the Free Men with their leaders Bard the Bowman and Gandalf the Grey. The other player controls a pack of orcs and goblins under the leadership of Bolg, son of Alzug. On the huge board we can find the surroundings of the Lonely Mountain, divided into different regions. As in War of the Rings there are special locations that play an important role and must be held by the shadow player to win the game. The player of the Free People wins if either Bolg is killed or if the Fate track - as explained later - has reached step 15.

A good part of the game concept of The Battle of Five Armies is based on the older War of the Ring. So, the game uses more or less the same dice action system. Special six sided dice are rolled by each faction at the beginning of a turn, determining what actions the player can perform during the round. One by one the players choose one of these dice and carry out the corresponding action. Again we can find character die results, army and mustering rolls as well as event die results and combined symbols. Also, there is a result similar to "Will of the West" as well as a "Lidless Eye" for the shadow player. With the Lidless Eye the shadow player recruits, moves and attacks with a special force, the goblins. These creatures begin their recruitment far up in the mountains behind a pass. They do not enter the battle zone before their strength has reached at least five units in a region. So - unreachable by other forces - they stay together in a closed off area on the map and then - all of a sudden - ambush the Free People's forces.

Next to the action dice system we also know the mechanism of the event and story cards, breaking the normal rules and giving the one or other player temporarily advantages. New to all War of the Rings players is the concept of Fate. This element determines some very important events for the player of the free people like the arrival of Bilbo, the Eagles and Beorn. Those are mighty leaders with a lot of special abilities. Now, how does the concept of Fate work? At the beginning of each round, after taking new event and story cards, the player of the Free People can choose up to three generals in play assigning them activation markers and so being able to use their special power in the following phases. Besides, for every activated general he may place a leadership token next to a different army, enabling the army to use the leader re-roll during combat. In the next phase the shadow player may draw fate tiles, one after the other, from the fate pool. He must take at least one and after drawing he must decide if he wants to apply the effects of this token or draw a new one (up to the number of generals the Free People player has activated). All tokens that were not applied are put back to the fate pool again. The one that was chosen is applied, which results in advancing the fate marker on the fate track by 0 to 3 steps. Besides - if the token indicates so - a fate card is drawn by the player of the Free People with its effect immediately carried out. According to Roberto, this fate track enormously changes the game. So, every game of The Battle of Five Armies will be different. The more often the player of the Free People activates his generals, the slower the fate marker will move forward, because the shadow player can get rid of fate tokens he does not want. So, one the one hand the player of the Free People improves his current combat strenght with the activated generals, on the other hand he delays the arrival of the important Eagles and Beorn.

An interesting rule comes with the special actions of Gandalf and Thranduil. Both leaders can activate a ranged combat (magic / archery), so that armies of the shadow player within a certain range can be attacked. To check whether the army is within range, an arched ruler is used on the map.

Quite interesting are also the changes in combat: First of all the different army units now all have their unique unit cards, indicating their favored terrain, their combat strength and their maneuver ability. Both, the first and the last are unknown for players who know War of the Ring, so here is their explanation: different units have different favorite terrains adjudicating a terrain superiority at the beginning of a combat. The terrain superiority is checked at the beginning of each combat and the player with more units with the corresponding favorite terrain can draw an additional event card. Maneuver abilities on the other hand are activated if the unit scores a hit during combat. Activating maneuver abilities requires playing the corresponding unit card in the first step of a combat. This card is then out of play as long as the player had not played a regroup card in one of the following combat rounds. The remaining combat then follows similar rules as in the War of the Ring. First the combat strength is calculated which determines the number of dice a player may roll. Each 5 or 6 is a hit, if there is no fortification, terrain specialties or an event or story card changes the rules. Also, we can find the well-known leader re-rolls in the game.

New to all of us is the fact that units can take one damage token each before there are any casualties. And these damages to armies can be healed again by assigning a muster dice to them in one of the following rounds or by the effect of event or story cards. Roberto told me that this results in much more tactical game, as you can retreat your troops and heal them again.

Compared to the War of the Ring, the characters are much stronger in combat and it is extremely important to cleverly place and activate them. For the player of the Free People it is very important to bring the Eagles and Beorn into the play. The shadow player on the other hand should use the powerful leader Bolg and the help of the Great Bats. Bolg is nearly unbeatable, but this is also the chance for the player of the Free People, because as a result the shadow player will commit Bolg very soon to the front and so he can be attacked by a lot of units of the free people.

Great game, great designer. I am really impatient for playing it frequently in the next couple of weeks.


With this I am leaving you again with Frank for today. See you again tomorrow!

Before I resume my own report, let me just recap on something which is sometimes asked in my guestbook. Some of you have been wishing for larger pictures, but my storage possibilities are limited. It's not just the pictures from this SPIEL which I am storing, but there is material from the last 18 years (!!!) hidden within the depths of the Gamebox, and so I have to make compromises concerning the quality of the pictures. The way I am doing it allows me to work just with my normal server, and this in turn makes it easier to do all the updating. At this place I would also like to thank you for all the kind guestbook entries. I am reading them each night when I have finished typing to get some energy for the next convention day. But enough of this - down the road and back into the halls!


I had scheduled my next meeting right after lunch, and I knew there was a game waiting which would be interesting for every fan of the SPIEL convention!

Introduction: ESSEN THE GAME: SPIEL '13 (GEEK ATTITUDE GAMES, Booth 1-B126)

Grown up at Essen and having visited every SPIEL convention, I never would have imagined the comparatively small show of the beginning years to grow into such a big event which attracts gamers and geeks from all around the world. It has been a long way from the humble beginning in halls 10 to 12 to the big event of the SPIEL '14, and it makes me happy to think that so many people want to visit my hometown at least once in order to experience the unique feeling of the show. Funny enough, 2014 is the year of the game-adaptions of the SPIEL itself, and so two different publishers have decided to create games which take the SPIEL-convention for a thematic background.

ESSEN The Game: Spiel '13 puts us into the roll of gamers who roam the halls in search for the most prestigious (best) games. Already the layout of the gameboard and the many tiles and cards in the game suggests that the authors of this game must be real geeks, because Fabrice Beghin, Frédéric Delporte and Etienne Espreman went through quite a bit of effort to ensure that they would be allowed to use original publishers' logos, game covers and even the hall plans of the convention area to illustrate their game material. As a result, all the components carry a strong feel of familiarity for anybody who has visited the SPIEL '13, and it's now the question whether the game itself does well in continuing this spirit.

The seven rounds of playing focus on one full day at the SPIEL, with the opening of the gates at the beginning of round one and the closure after round 7. During these rounds the 60 publishers on the gameboard will receive their games on stepwise basis, with some games being available at the beginning of the day, whereas others will follow as the pallets in the courtyard are unloaded. Each publisher has only one tile of his game, and this tile will become available at some point during the day. During setup, the players have received 300 Euros each which they may spend to acquire games, and they have also drafted a hand of Wishlist cards which list games they are looking for. If they will succeed in getting these games, they will score additional victory points at the end of the day.

The process of moving in the halls and acquiring new games is represented by a simple but effective mechanism of action points. A player has an allowance of eight action points each round, and it costs one point to make each step of movement or to buy a game from a publisher. However, seasoned SPIEL visitors will know that games can become quite cumbersome, and so each game in a player's bag will lower his amount of action points, down to a minimum of 2 points when 6 games are carried. Since the game lasts only seven rounds, players need to get rid of such a payload as fast as possible in order to move effectively, and so they have to commute between the halls and their cars where they can safely stow the games away.

But which games should be bought? The value of a game in victory points depends on a number of factors, starting with the game's potential (as indicated on the game tile) and moving on to the popularity factor. Four different types of games exist in the game (worker placement, dice games etc.), and during setup of each round popularity indices for each type of games will be set. Every game belongs to one of these types, and if a game of a high-ranking type is bought the lucky buyer will receive a nice bonus in victory points. In addition, there also is the possibility that an event token has been placed on the game, and so it may be high in the buzz or contain goodies which also add some victory points value. Finally, there is also an open display of some more Wishlist cards which can be collected for free when such a game is bought, and players can also spend one action to sit down for a round of playtesting in order to draft a new Wishlist card from the deck.

There is also one intermediate and one endgame scoring which represent the three big polling stations of the show (Boardgamegeek, TricTrac and Fairplay), and players who meet the conditions listed on these Scoring cards by owning the correct combination of games of the required types will be able to score extra points as well. In fact, these scorings are just another fitting example how much care the authors have taken to give the game as much SPIEL-atmosphere as possible, and so there are many small twists in the rules which will be recognized by SPIEL-veterans: a press pass allows an early entry and so it will be used to indicate the starting player, the courtyards of the convention area can be used as shortcuts and to make a costly lunch-break (which brings back two additional action points!), additional cash can be gained (for victory points) at the ATM outside the halls and gathering crowds can impede movement within the halls.

From my perspective ESSEN The Game: Spiel '13 is a caring and faithful adaption of a day at the SPIEL, but at the same time it also works surprisingly well as a game. The mechanism of balancing movement against carried games puts up a quite interesting challenge for the players, and the stepwise delivery of new games keeps the game both varying and surprising. However, the players can count on the fact that each of the 60 different games will appear at some point during the day, and the later it gets the more probably it will become that a desired game will appear during the setup of the following round. So, the players do best if the constantly try to adapt their way through the halls in order to pick up a good opportunity, and doing this in accord with the popularity indices and the scorings makes the whole operation even more worthwhile. SPIEL visitors certainly will love this game for the theme alone, and on the cover you can find many people who are actively involved with the hobby of boardgames. However, you should really get it onto the table and play it in order to show those ignorant people back at home what a day at the SPIEL really means: it's not games - it's a hard test for all your abilities!


Next on my list was a chat with Cedrick in order to talk a bit about future projects of REPOS PRODUCTION. Of course 7 Wonders has not reached its final chapter with 7 Wonders Babel, but their next upcoming game actually is going to be a life-action game by Roberto Fraga. Slaying Zombies or robbing a tomb? No, the situation is even more dangerous - the players have to conduct emergeny surgery at a hospital!

The game is accompanied by a downloadable soundtrack which will last for 12 minutes, and during this time the players will have to solve a number of tasks as defined by cards, all associated with "medical" actions. To solve the tasks the players have to team up in teams of two players each, with each team tackling a task on the table. However, the game is not played competitive, but instead the players will have to share the playing materials on the table before the patient's pulse will fail.

The different tasks found in the game are quite hilarious, with many of them causing the players to move within the room or to share some fiddly tasks. Even worse is the fact that all their efforts will be hindered even more by intervening special events, like a cardiac arrest or other emergencies. This may require the players to massage a whoopee cushion or do even other acts. Overall, the game is very off mainstream and should guarantee some incredible moments for all players. Name and box art on the picture below are still under development, but the game will become available somewhen next year.


Off mainstream was also the idea underlying last year's REPOS game Concept by Gaëtan Beaujannot and Alain Rivollet. The players have to use a gameboard full of different pictograms, colours and figures to explain terms which must be riddled, and it has been surprising to see the different kinds of reception the game has received. On the one hand the game has rightly gotten a nomination for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres awards because of its intuitive and new riddling mechanism, but on the other hand some people still claim that the game should take itself more seriously. It is true that the rules state that markers and mechanisms to play for points only have been included for people who like competitive gaming, but so it is up to every group of players whether they want to play for points or just for fun. After all, having fun is the most important thing in any kind of game, and if an interesting gaming round develops just by riddling without use of the points the players are free to go for it.


Staying in this part of Hall 3, I had reserved the rest of the afternoon for a long visit to MATAGOT, and as every year I was met be Fabien from MATAGOT who gave me an introduction to some of the new games. The one I was most eager to see actually was the new expansion for one of my favorite games.

Playtesting Session: Cyclades Titans (MATAGOT, Booth 3-D102)

It's somewhat incredible, but it has been 5 years since MATAGOT released the Greek mythology-based boardgame Cyclades back in 2009. The beautiful game has been one of my highlights at the SPIEL that year, only beaten by Servando Carballar's remarkable Werewolf-Thriller Luna llena - Full Moon, but ever since acquiring the game in 2009 I have been a bit sad that it was only playable with a maximum of five players. The game never was forgotten, and so authors Ludovic Maublanc and Bruno Cathala added the Hades expansion in 2011, allowing the players to deal with dark Hades and to hire famous Greek heroes. Already that year Bruno Cathala hinted at the authors' plans to release another expansion which would increase the maximum number of players, but I had to wait until 2015 for this expansion to be realized.

With the release of the new Cyclades - Titans expansion Cyclades is back on the table, and indeed the new expansion finally allows the inclusion of a sixth player. However, I can finally understand why the way towards the release of the final product has taken such a long time. As it turned out, the new player did not just need a few new playing pieces and a larger board, but the rules themselves needed to be adjusted to accommodate a sixth player since the game would have gotten too unpredictable. So, Ludovic and Bruno needed to work both on the winning conditions and on the layout on the gameboard, and they finally came up with a whole new board which features larger islands with regions instead of the small single-region islands which could be found on the original map. If my interpretation is correct, the bigger islands were needed to decrease the possibility of one player having to deal with several other players at the same time. The players are slightly less mobile especially concerning medium range moves, and so they tend to focus on their immediate neighbors, most often resulting in border conflicts with just one or two other players.

The new board accommodates three to six players, but if the new sixth player is included the players also are obliged to play in teams. Whereas games with up to five players still can be played with each player fighting for himself, six participants require the players to split into three teams of two players each. Nothing is shared between the teammates, they may not even cross each other's regions. However, they share the joint victory condition of possessing three Metropolises by the end of a round, and of course they are allowed to discuss how they may achieve this goal. For this reason a new option for a military victory has been included, allowing a player who conquers an opponent's last region to immediately place a Metropolis there if the region offers an empty building space and if the team would gain its third Metropolis by this action.

However, there is more to this expansion than just these new rules and the board. The name of the expansion features the Titans, fearsome giants which have been sent by Zeus' cruel father Kronos to prevent the usurpation of his power by his own children. Now the players can make offerings to Kronos himself, and in game terms Kronos will allow his followers to gain either a free standard building or a Titan. In battle, the Titans act and function exactly like normal troops, but the feature which makes them so fearsome is the possibility to move without the help of Ares (the god who usually provides for army movement). Now the active player can opt to pay gold for moving an army which is lead by a Titan, and this gives the players much more options to launch an attack, resulting in increased action on the gameboard. Seasoned Cyclades-players like myself are forced to re-think their whole approach to the game, since the Titans effectively devaluate an Ares-orientated tactics. It's not enough anymore to prevent other players from getting Ares at a crucial moment, but now you need to check whether there are Titans around which could possibly be harmful for your homelands. Due to the fact that multiple Titan-movements are allowed as long as the active player can pay for them, it becomes quite impossible to feel really save. Each player's treasure still remains hidden behind his screen, and so a player with a large war chest can cause some nasty surprises.

Two more extensions for the game can be found in the Titans-box, and one of them are the five Divine Artifacts which now can be acquired by the players. Like the heroes from Hades, the Artifact-cards first appear in the Mythological Creatures deck, and when a player has acquired an artifact he may place a small figurine representing the artifact into one of his regions. They all have in common that they provide additional income during the revenues phase, but apart from this each artifact has its own special function. So, the Winged Sandals of Hermes allow a player's troops to fly to any region on the same island, the Cap of Invisibility can be used to move troops through occupied regions, and Zeus Lightning entitles its owner to gain a coin whenever he is outbid during the offerings phase. The benefits provided by the artifacts do not seem to be too strong, especially since the artifacts are present on the gameboard and can be stolen by a player who conquers a region with an artifact. Other players will greedily look at a player who has acquired one of these precious items, and so owning an artifact brings the risk that this player always has to watch his back.

Finally, the game now features five special Metropolises. Apart from the standard functions of a Metropolis all of them feature a special ability, and two of them will be randomly determined during setup to be part of the game. The first two players to build a Metropolis now are entitled to one of these specials, and so the early building of a Metropolis now will be rewarded for the player who decides to do so.

Despite the long waiting period it's really good to see that Ludovic and Bruno took their time to create and playtest Cyclades - Titans without haste. The new elements fall into place rather smoothly, enhancing the game without overburdening the players. And, if everybody is ready to take a step ahead, the rules also allow the simultaneous use of the Hades-expansion. Here the players are warned that this may lead to an Odyssey of considerable dimensions, and in game terms this simply means that the inclusion of both expansions needs players to be familiar with the different elements offered by both expansions. Newcomers probably would be overburdened by the sheer volume of options, but seasoned players will appreciate to be able to enjoy Cyclades at a whole new level!

However, this has not been the only expansion released for a previous title from MATAGOT, and so we continued right away with an expansion for Corto.

Introduction: Corto - The Secrets of Venice (MATAGOT, Booth 3-D102)

Last year's Corto is a quite unusual boardgame which is based on the adventures of Hugo Pratt's famous comic-book hero Corto Maltese. In this strategic card-placement game the players can join Corto on some of his most famous adventures, and they try to score by placing cards of characters from the books onto different storyline adventure boards which have been brought together to create a big gameboard. Apart from the final positioning of the characters at the end of the game, the players also have the possibility to score victory points in the adventures, and each of the adventures had its own special rules for scoring.

The modular gameboard and the fact that a few more Corto stories exist make the game ideal for the creation of expansions, and the owners of the first edition of the game were in for quite a surprise because the game included an additional deck of adventure cards which did not belong to any of the adventures included in the game. The cards showed characters from the adventure Fable of Venice, but due to a missing storyboard they could not be used properly. There have been speculations whether MATAGOT later would release the gameboard as a print-and-play expansion, but the truth was even simpler. A packing error hat been made at the factory, and this had resulted in the fact that the first edition of Corto did not just contain the required playing materials, but also cards for the first expansion which had been printed simultaneously.

So, MATAGOT all the time had been planning to release more stories for the game, and now they have finally started with Corto - The Secrets of Venice, once again containing the additional cards, but this time accompanied by a matching storyboard. As always, the main characters of the book have found their way into the game, and once again their alignment is represented by a black or white border, allowing the placement or removal of player tokens. The special rules for Corto - The Secrets of Venice once again are connected with the storyboard itself. In accordance with the background story from the book some treasures are hidden at Venice, and this is represented by coin symbols printed above some spaces on the Venice-board. At the end of the game it will be checked to which players the characters occupying these spaces belong, and the respective players then are allowed to add the corresponding amount of gold to their total score.

In playing terms the storyline and mechanism of Corto - The Secrets of Venice blends perfectly with the storyboards of the main game. As with the other boards, the Venice board offers some nice extra rewards which the players can consider when making their placements, since usually only a good mixture of character groups and extra rewards will ensure victory. However, I was a bit surprised by the rather straightforward implementation of the extras in Venice. Whereas other storyboards come with stand-ups for a train or a boat, no additional playing material is needed here. This certainly works fine with Corto - The Secrets of Venice, but I guess it will need more innovation in the future if MATAGOT wants to realize even more Corto-stories in form of these small expansions.

Apart from this Fabien also gave me an introduction to the other new games from MATAGOT. In Korrigans the players take the roles of Leprechauns who are moving through a mystic land, and on their voyage they may collect one of several Treasure tokens from every region they enter. They may actually inspect all tokens in a region before taking one, but the different kinds of benefits on each token can be used in quite different way. On the one hand the token may contain some gold which will count as victory points, but on the other hand the token also may show different small animals which can be used by the Leprechauns as means of movement, allowing them a movement alon the rivers (frogs) or over gates (rabbit). A quick possibility to move both of a player's Leprechauns is necessary especially during the endgame when a pot of gold will appear on a space of the gameboard, and a player who succeeds to bring one or - even better - both his Leprechauns there will earn a nice amount of extra points. Fabien told me that the game would be great to play with kids, but even a round with just grown ups can find fun in the game because the optimized methods for movement and the memory aspect concerning the contents of each regions' tokens leads to a quite competitive gameplay.


The game Sun Tzu has first been released as Dynasties back in 2005 by JOLLY ROGER GAMES, and MATAGOT had followed it with a pocket edition in 2010. However, due to its easy and dynamic battle system MATAGOT had decided to re-release this two-player game in a more attractive new edition, and so the game now contains completely new artwork and plastic miniatures. And indeed, the combat system between the two warlords warring for dominance of Chinese provinces couldn't be easier: each player just assigns a card from his set of cards with values from "1" to "6" to each of the five provinces, and the difference of both player cards will lead to the adding or removal of a player's armies in the particular province. After rounds 3, 6 and 9 the provinces will be scored for their respective owners, and here a changing amount of victory points can be gained depending on the current value of each province. However, the combat procedure is is enriched by a set of one-use cards which a player can use to replace any of his always available standard cards, and these one-use cards list quite helpful elements like powerful generals or armies which orientate their strength on the other player's card so that the players have a quite powerful arsenal which they may use to turn as many provinces as possible until the next scoring.


However, as it seems there is no year without the dreaded MATAGOT Curse, and this year the fate of late delivery had upturned the production table of Room 25 - Season 2. This new expansion for Room 25 includes two new characters so that the game now can be played with up to eight players, and all eight character sheets now actually contain a special rule for each character. In addition, the game features some nice new miniatures for all characters, and of course a good number of new rooms with interesting features also adds new flavor to the game. This expansion is due in November/December 2014, and it will actually be accompanied by a new edition of the basic game which will now come in a box of the same size.


Finally, Fabien also showed me some meeples for a new game called Barony which will be released next year, and I must add that especially the riders look rather cute. I cannot remember that I have seen riding meeples of this small size in any other game.


Phew, that has been a long day indeed, and before the MATAGOT Curse would totally drain all my fluids I teamed up with Ralf to meet for Cedrick's invitation for the after-show part on the REPOS booth. Quite a big crowd of supporters and friends had gathered there, and we emptied some bottles of Belgian cherry beer before we actually went home to start typing…




And with the typing finished, it's now time to sleep...

Saturday, 18th of October 2014

Another day at the SPIEL is over, and a lot of interesting games is waiting to be heard about!

But before we can actually enter the halls together, I will be begin with the fact that I have been hijacked by my wife this morning to help with our weekly groceries shopping. We have a rather nice weekly farmers' market here at Essen-Rüttenscheid, and Nicole and I usually go there to purchase our vegetables. Well it's not all organic food which can be bought here, but there are some stalls which actually sell quite good organic stuff. Since it was a beautiful morning with extraordinary high temperatures, we set out on foot in order to do all our shopping. I should have suspected this when I have been eating my lunch at home during these previous days - there's no such thing as a free lunch…




But with all food safely deposited back at home, I was finally given leave to re-enter the SPIEL to begin today's gaming experience, and so I quickly headed back to MESSE ESSEN. Once inside, I first came upon the CGE-booth where I had been playing Alchemists yesterday, and today they had just 50 copies of the game left. There was actually a quite long queue of people hoping that they might still get a copy.


My first playtesting session of the day was scheduled at the booth of Italian publisher CRANIO CREATIONS, and here I was met by Lorenzo Tucci who had secured a table for me to play a game of Dungeon Bazar. You might think that just another dungeon-crawler is waiting for you, but wait and see what this game is about…

Playtesting Session: Dungeon Bazar (CRANIO CREATIONS, Booth 12-A118)

Have you ever asked yourself who profits most from some adventurers entering a dungeon? It's certainly not the dungeon's denizens, because they will possibly end up getting slain, or - in the best case - they will be denounced as being terrible monsters (see entry Dungeon Lords. The adventurers are not much better off, because they might loose a limb or more in the darkness, and all the earned money will be spent quite quickly for survival celebrations (see entry The Red Dragon Inn). Not even tourists will be rewarded, because the dungeon is either too dangerous to enter or all ancient artifacts have been plundered long ago…

No, the ones who will really profit are the outfitters, the merchants who sell the equipment to the heroes who dare to enter a dungeon. Well, this could be a one-time business if the heroes are too successful, but why not strike a deal with Smog the local dragon, sending some adventurers along with shining but mostly useless equipment. The business would thrive with each new group of adventurers trying to "save" your village, and all equipment can be salvaged and resold when it is no longer needed. So, let's open a Dungeon Bazar!

In our case the dungeon is a set of three times three room tiles, and during setup these tiles are shuffled and randomly arranged to form the dungeon. All tiles are visible (the players' Merchants know the dungeon!), and one tile contains the Dragon, two tiles Spells which can be gained, and the other six tiles contain different decks of equipment cards (Weapons, Armor, Potions, Magic Objects, Familiars and Crap (low ranking cards of all aforementioned categories). During three seasons the players will send their Merchants together with their staff of Goblins into the dungeon to collect some equipment and bring it back to their booths, but in order to know which kind of equipment will be demanded each season begins with the arrival of the season's Heroes (fools?). So, some new Hero cards are revealed, and these cards list how much the Heroes are willing to spend and which kinds of equipment they will be looking for. With the knowledge the Merchants and their Goblins will hasten to get into the dungeon to gather the needed equipment and sell it to the Heroes.

The main phase of the game focuses on these gathering actions. Entering the dungeon through a common entrance, the players can spend action points to move or to leave Goblins at rooms with decks of Equipment cards or spells. If present, a player also can spend an action to collect a Dragon's Favor token or to recruit an Ogre or a Goblin Accountant who got lost in the dungeon. The Accountant is worth some cash, whereas the Ogre can be sent to a room of the player's choice and will count as two Goblins when the action phase ends and the evaluation takes place. Even Cloudy the Baby Dragon can be found, and if he is brought back to grim old Smog money and a Dragon's Favor token wait as a reward. The Favor tokens can be spent for additional actions in the Dungeon, or they can be collected until the end of the game when the player with most tokens will receive a bonus for having the best business relationship with Smog.

The players are free to end their actions in the dungeon at any time during their turn, and this will put additional pressure on the others who are still busy in the dungeon, because it will now cost them money to play additional turns. The more players have left, the more expensive it gets! Finally, when all players have left, it's evaluation time!

Now each dungeon room containing an Equipment deck will be checked for the player ranking, with the players' Goblins, the Ogre and the Merchant figures (who have been left in the last visited room) counting. When the ranking of a room has been determined, the best ranking player will draw a number of cards from that deck corresponding to the number of players present in this particular room plus one. He is allowed to choose and keep one of these cards, handing the rest to the player who ranks next. This is continued until the last ranking player who may keep one of the two cards which he has received. The final card then is discarded. All rooms with Equipment decks are evaluated in this fashion, allowing the players to get a choice of equipment cards which will hopefully match the taste of the waiting adventurers.

The process of leaving Goblins and choosing the right Equipment cards is more tricky than it may seem, because they players do not just have to keep the shopping lists and allowances of the adventurers is mind, but they also have to consider the buying patterns of these wannabe Heroes. Each Hero will be served separately, and his shopping will start with the topmost object on his shopping list. He is going to buy the cheapest card on offer which matches the desired category, and all other players will not be able to sell an object of this category to this Hero. So, chosing a cheap card in the dungeon may be a good choice, but this situation changes if one or more of the other Heroes desire an Equipment card of the same category, since now two or even more of these cards can be sold within the same round. Now it may pay off to take an expensive card after all. However, the adventurer's purchase allowance also poses a restriction which should not be underestimated, because it may well happen that an adventurer has run out of money and so cannot afford an object which ranges low on his list. Now the player owning the cheapest card on offer may opt to sell the object with a discount, but once again the decision depends on the shopping lists of the still waiting adventurers. By the way, selling Crap cards will not yield much money, but Smog will appreciate your efforts to make things easy for him and so a Merchant selling Crap will also gain a Dragon's Favor token.

Unfortunately all unsold equipment must be discarded by the end of the round for a meagre compensation, and so a player has to focus on finding good business opportunities to sell all his collected stuff. When all adventurers have been dealt with, a new round begins with the arrival of new adventurers and a reset of the dungeon, but there is one important difference. All collected Equipment cards are out of the game, and so the decks in the dungeon rooms will get thinner in rounds two and three. This gives the players some additional possibilities to plot and plan, because the removal of some low ranking cards can lead to new opportunities for lucrative sales!

Dungeon Bazar is an unusual game in the best possible sense, and already the thematic setting suggests that the tinkerers of CRANIO CREATIONS once again have come up with a slightly crazy but undeniably affectionately designed product. The game poses an interesting tactical challenge due to the combination of the drafting process and the timing restrictions in the dungeon, and its generally humorous spirit is certainly supplemented by sometimes quite funny artwork found on the Equipment cards. Personally, the only additional thing I would have wished for was a bit more mayhem, implemented as a phase where the adventurers would be using their equipment in the dungeon, but after giving this idea a bit of thought it think it would be one level too much considering the initial scope of Dungeon Bazar. The spells which can also be gathered in the dungeon serve this purpose quite well, and so it can be summarized that the Italian designers Paolo Cecchetto, Daniele Tascini and Simone Luciani have come up with a quite likeable and unique game!


By the way, did anybody claim that the SPIEL would be less crowded on Saturday? Well, we have an ongoing train strike, and the weather outside is rather beautiful with summerlike temperatures, but all this had no impact on the high number of visitors which were roaming the halls today.


Lucky enough, I didn't have to go too far because I was looking forwards to finally checkout Ignacy Trzewiczek's new game Imperial Settlers, and the booths of CRANIO and PORTAL are just a few steps apart from each other.

Playtesting Session: Imperial Settlers (PORTAL, Booth 1-C120)

Can a game be re-invented? Well, there always have been occasions when publishers have decided that one of their products had been so successful that a new edition was needed, and others followed even simpler motives by just re-theming a game in order to sell the same idea twice. Knowing that Ignacy certainly is not someone who would copy his own game, I have been waiting for his newest game Imperial Settlers with a high degree of curiosity because it was said to be based on his successful cardgame 51st State. You might remember that post-apocalyptic 51st State has been my convention hit of the SPIEL in 2010, and the game had been further improved by The New Era and the Winter expansion which had been released in following years. Even this year the 51st State franchise has been further enriched with the new Ruins expansion, but with all these products and ideas taken together I first was a bit puzzled by the question why a new game could be needed.

To my mind the answer to this question in connected with the game's theme. Considering the fact that the mechanics of 51st State provide an excellent playing experience, I can see the sense behind a re-theming of the game, because a post-apocalyptic setting certainly is not suitable for everybody's taste. In fact, a game which such a martial theme hardly can be called a typical "family game". I'd guess that these thoughts come quite close to Ignacy's own evaluation of his game's development over the last few years, and considering the great value of the ideas which had been realized in 51st State it can be understood that he looked for a way to present his game to a bigger audience. Keeping this in mind, just looking at the box of Imperial Settlers reveals that he did not only succeed in reaching this aim, but already the amiable Farmer on the cover signalizes that Ignacy had taken the whole idea one step further. The game's graphics have been re-designed to imitate the cute graphics which can be found in some empire-building computer games, and the way it was realized was none less than a stroke of genius. The new graphic style has found its way into every part of the game, and players now take lead of the incredibly cuddlesome tribes of the Romans, the Egyptians, the Barbarians and the Japanese. Leaving the apocalypse behind, the game's graphics now will appeal to all kinds of gamers, and this should guarantee that Ignacy's mechanics finally get the audience they deserve!

But okay, enough praise for the graphics, let's go for some facts. Imperial Settlers indeed is strongly based on the mechanics of 51st State, and so the game sees the players building a small empire from cards which are partially drawn from each player's own Faction deck and partially chosen from an open display. Each player has a basic income of a few workers and resources, and these resources can be used to build some first buildings which in turn will provide new resources and other abilities. However, a card cannot only be built, but a player also may spend less resources to establish a deal with the new card, not using its major ability but getting a small additional income for the rest of the game. Finally, a card may also be destroyed ("razed"), and if a player does this the card will be discarded, granting the player some resources as a one-time benefit. So, it's up to the players to decide which cards they should raze, which cards they should use to establish deals, and which cards they should build to use their abilities to their full extend.

Cards which have been built are added to the player's Empire, and all buildings fall into one of three different categories. One type of buildings produces resources, the second type gives the player a permanent benefit which may be triggered if certain conditions are met, and the third type of buildings can be used for actions. Workers may be sent to these buildings to perform a broad range of actions, sometimes resulting in the production of resources and sometimes providing the player with special actions which may possibly be used to hamper the other players (stealing resources, destroying buildings etc.).

The game is played over a total of five rounds, and during a round the players take actions one after the other until all players finally have chosen to pass. The range of possible actions goes from building a card to making a deal or razing a card (a building owned by the player, or, if he possesses a Sword token, a building of an opponent), and it is also considered to be an action to send workers to an already existing building to perform an action there. Players who have chosen to pass may not perform an action anymore, but at the same time they also become immune against other players' hostile actions for the rest of the round.

It's the overall aim of the players to build as many of their cards as possible, preferable the cards from their own Faction decks because they will count for two victory points in the final evaluation. Cards which have been built from the Common deck open to all players only count for one victory point, and in addition these cards are often discarded since many of the cards from the players' Faction decks need another building as a foundation on which they can be built. In the end, the player with the most valuable buildings will win the game.

Imperial Settlers positions itself strongly in the broad category of empire-building games, and Ignacy can pride himself with the fact that he has created a game which finds the right balance for almost everything: not too complex but still with a nice range of choices for the players to make, not too long but long enough to allow everybody to catch up again, and not too much player interaction because the constant destruction of a player's empire would lead to frustration. Combined with the incredibly cute graphics, Imperial Settlers has become a strong contestant for the upcoming games awards, and it will be interesting to see how the game fares in the different elections.

Seasoned 51st State players will discover that Imperial Settlers brings together the best ideas from the whole 51st State franchise. Apart from the general card mechanics, the game takes the direct means of player interaction from The New Era and the limited duration from Winter and brings everything together in a streamlined form with slightly less playing depth but much quicker gameplay. Ignacy has done quite well in dropping some elements like distance tokens, the fourth type of resources or the more complex Lookout phase, because the removal of these elements gave him space for including new elements, most prominent the individual Faction decks which give each player access to a rather unique choice of cards and special abilities. This especially decreases the entry hurdle for new players, a nice feat considering the fact that newcomers in 51st State sometimes had a quite hard time with the complex iconography.

If Imperial Settlers is compared to the whole 51st State product line, it's hard for me to say which game is better. Imperial Settlers is less bulky and features a higher degree of player interaction because it contains considerably more cards which can be used for actions against opposing players, but 51st State on the other hand - if all new elements and expansions are included - stands for a higher degree of complexity and a tougher challenge since the players have even more ways to fine-tune their production engines. As for myself, I will keep certainly both games in my collection, since there are always some players who cannot be bothered with a post-apocalyptic scenario or as too complex game. Here Imperial Settlers will be the perfect alternative!


By the way, Ignacy actually succeeded in a secret enlargement of his booth space. Using boxes and tablecloths, he sneaked two gaming "tables" into his corridor. This has worked astonishingly well so far because it's no main passage.


I needed to get a bit of fresh air after this because the late morning crowd still hadn't subsided, and since my next playtesting was planned in Hall 3 I would have crossed the courtyard anyhow. So, I stepped out into the sun for a short break.



In the meanwhile, let's see what Ralf has been doing all day!

One more day and I will be looking like one of these zombies of Zombicide. To be honest, yesterday night I was so totally tired, that I finished writing without the usual correcting of the proofs. So I got a justifiable scolding by Frank today, who did the proofreading in the middle of the night [insert Frank: well, I wasn't that effective as well at 2 AM…]. The 4,5 hours of sleep were only semi-helpful for me. So it was another day with a hard fight against the tiredness.

What would be better in that case as to begin the day with a hack and slash game? Luckily enough I was asked to be part of a demo of Conan: Hyborian Quests by MONOLITH. The game will kickstart in January 2015, but they had a demo here in Essen at the booth of ASMODEE.

Playtesting Session: Conan: Hyborian Quests (AMODEE / MONOLITH, Booth 3-B108)

Of course the game is based on the Conan universe by Robert E. Howard. It is a scenario-based game in which one player commands all the different monster groups and the other player taking the role of various heroes, whose aim is set in the individual scenarios. In our scenario today we had to kill a chieftain who has kidnapped a princess and of course we were asked to free the princess likewise. Not brilliantly witty, but keep in mind that Conan: Hyborian Quests is truly a hack and slash game. The set-up told us to distribute the monster groups to different places on the map. A lot of them were inside different houses and some mighty blockers were waiting outside for the heroes to come into play. Last thing in the set-up was that the player of the bad guys had to secretly write down the number of the house he wanted to hide the princess.

Ok, that was all for the set-up. So it was the heroes' turn to come into play, slay the monsters and free the princess. All heroes simultaneously play their turn, helping each other - if they want - whatever they are doing. For all the things the players do, they have to spent gem from their individual energy pool. There is only one energy pool for each hero, so if your are moving a lot, there will be less gem left for the combats. Also wounds that are inflicted to the heroes are taken from the supply of gem. So it is a really easy mechanisms to keep track of your available actions. So in our first turn, Conan entered the board, moved to the next house by spending one gem (the distance was three, but Conan has two free steps in a round) and there he engaged the enemy.


Now the combats are quite easy to explain, too: By spending gem (up to a specific limit, 5 for Conan) you get dice to roll. Conan, well he is just Conan, and so he was able to take the red dice that have comparable more hits on different sides than the yellow dice that my hero, Shevacas, the thief, could use. Rolling three dice Conan did 5 hits, but his weapon allowed a re-roll, so he took a dice showing only one hit, rolled again, and added two more hits. So it was a total of 7 which would be enough to kill two of the enemies who could bear 3 wounds each. But the player of the bad guys still had the chance to defend. Again for this he had to spend a gem for each die he wanted to roll. He took two dice, but rolled only one hit. So Conan was still able to hit 6 wounds, killing two of the three enemies in the room. At this moment Conan could have spend more gems to do another attack, but he left it to me to enter the room and attack the last enemy. I succeeded and we were finally alone in the room. So this was the time for me - as the thief - to look after some treasure in the room. Again I took from my gem supply to get a die and rolled a success to open the chest. This gave us an item, in this case a healing potion we could use once we were hit.


At the beginning of the next turn, we could decide to remain active, giving us back only two gem we had spent before, or passive with a refund of five gem. Basically that are the main game mechanics. Last thing you must know is that the player of the bad guys chooses his monster groups from a board with eight slidable tiles, representing the different monster group. Each time he wants to activate a monster group, he has to spent gems matching the position on the board. The further left the monster tile is located the cheaper its activation. After activation this monster tile is placed furthest to the right, so activating it again (which would also be possible in the same round) becomes very expensive.


The prototype of Conan: Hyborian Quests already gave a pretty cool impression. The game mechanics are well thought out, nearly self-explaining and contribute to the necessary fast game play. Wouldn't it be so far, it would never be a hack and slash game. I guess that's why you are also feeling nearly at one with your character. The game knows how to keep the players focused on what is going on, because there is no real break for anyone. Even if you - as a hero - are resting (passive), you probably will be attacked and have to defend yourself. In the final production a lot of different scenarios, boards, heroes and monsters will be included. So it should give the players enough material to vary the game. I am looking forward to it.


Now this experience was exactly what I had needed to start my day. While leaving the table I recognized that everywhere around us there was a huge crowd. As the demo took place in hall 3, where a lot of the bigger companies have built up their booth, I choose to hurry up and leave this hall for today. The weekends traditionally belong to the families and as in hall 3 we find publishers like HASBRO, PEGASUS, KOSMOS and HABA it is no wonder that there was no getting through.

Two days ago I told you that there are quite a lot of new civilization games this year, so I decided it would be time for another try-out: Progress - Evolution of Technology seems to be a very promising one, today it was listed under the Top 20 at Boardgamegeek for the SPIEL. It is published by the Romanian publisher NSKN GAMES. I have never been in contact with this publisher before, but it is already the fourth year they have coming to Essen.

When I reached the booth, I first had to learn that they were sold out of the game. Over 600 copies had been purchased and of course they were very happy with that. As a result of the success it was impossible to playtest the game, a lot of people wanted to try and I had some other appointments so I couldn't wait. But I got a short introduction and I will tell you the main concept of the game.

Introduction: Progress - Evolution of Technology (NSKN Games, Booth 1-G140)

Different from most other civilization games, Progress - Evolution of Technology - as can be concluded from the title - solely concentrates on the evolution part of history. No military confrontations, no problems in feeding your population, no political decisions. Can this work? Is this definitely enough for a game? From what I saw I would say that the answer could be yes. It is almost like cutting this evolution chart out of the computer game Civilization and creating a boardgame around it. You must admit, that this sounds interesting. Weren't we always spying on the chart to look what technology we could research after our next evolution step?

In the boardgame we are equipped with a player board, where we keep track of the seven skills we can develop during the game. Those skills determine how many actions we can perform in a turn, how many cards we may draw and hold, how many technologies we may have under development and so on. Accessible to all players we can find a power board to keep track of our achievements in prestige, population and army and finally the cards of technology. Those cards are categorized in three ages. Of course we begin the game with only cards of Age I accessible.


During our turn and depending on our skills we can discover or research new technologies. The difference between these two possibilities is, that researching takes us longer, depending on our current researching skill. Discovering on the other hand lets us play and use the new technology cards immediately, but we have to pay a higher prize for it. Most technology cards have either costs and/or a prerequisite that reduces the costs for discovering. So either you pay the money or you try to discover (research) the prerequisite first to get the new technology cheaper or even for free. If you cannot wait you can either pay with knowledge tokens or with other technology cards from your hand that go to the discard pile in that case. So Progress - Evolution of Technology is mainly a game of hand management.

As a result of discovering or completing a research of a new technology you always get a benefit as declared on the technology card. Next to an advance on the different skill and powerboard tracks you also can get more knowledge tokens or even victory points for the final scoring. Those knowledge tokens are flipped after each use, but are refreshed every new turn, so they are quite useful for later discoveries.


Of course you must also have the chance to get new cards to your hands. That is why the game gives you three different kind of actions to fill up your hand. During the game - after you had discovered a specified number of new age technologies (technologies with a corresponding symbol), you will reach new ages and enable players to draw from the Age II and III deck, too.

I liked the idea of Progress - Evolution of Technology very much. For a civilization game it seems to be very fast-paced, and I can imagine that - despite of the few rules - it will be a very deep game with many interesting tactical decisions. I also liked the graphical design of the technology cards. I must confess that I felt to be reset to Civilization on my computer during my student time.

By now it was nearly one o'clock, so I had a break and got a coffee. Walking around while taking nips of the hot drink, I nearly bumped into Matteo Cremona, who did the artwork for Co-Mix. So I took the opportunity to take a picture of him and give it to you now, too.


This reminded me, that I also promised you some pictures of Historia the other day. At the booth of GIOCHIX.IT I was also quite lucky, because Marco Pranzo, author of the game, was just signing. So I took a photo of him, too, and add it to the promised shot of Historia.


Phew, the coffee finally took its full effect to me and so I was prepared to do a final playtest. I choose to stay in the civilization genre and walked over to the booth of G3. Last year I was surprised, that G3 - apart from QUEEN GAMES - had one of the biggest booths in hall 1. This year it was their second time at the SPIEL and it was the same. But in fact G3 is one of the biggest game companies in Poland. The reason why they did not appeared to Essen earlier is, that they only recently began to create their own games. All their new games look very nice and so most of the time all of their many tables were occupied. I was quite lucky to join a couple to have a playtest of Imperialism: Road to Domination. Although I had read the rules before, I mixed it all up with the other games I had seen, so I was quite lucky that the author Konrad Perzyna personally introduced us to the game.


Playtesting Session: Imperialism: Road to Domination (G3, Booth 1F-139)

In Imperialism: Road to Domination we cover a period from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. It is the time of colonization as well as some major developments in technology, philosophy and political systems. Of course it is also the time of a lot of conflicts and long and disastrous wars. Despite of this time of unrest, the game welcomes us friendly and unhasty. The board consists of a lot of different scales were we keep track of our prestige, glory, army and fleet strength as well as of our good productions (eight different scales for the individual goods). Also on the board we can find spaces for different kinds of cards, such as achievement, territory and providence as well as religion cards.

At the beginning we all are equipped with one of the different superpower cards, that determines our home state and some specific bonuses. All cards of the game follow the same structure: below the head, where we can find the name and the type of the card, we see an illustration combined with markers for the card's permanent effects, its contribution to our glory points and as far as war as plot and event cards are concerned, its war and plundering modifier. Finally on the bottom we can find requirements to play the cards (if there are any) and the immediate effects.


The gameplay is quite simple. During our turn we can choose from five different actions. Three of them are connected with playing the different kind of cards from our hand. Most of them have an immediate effect, either some benefit for the player like increasing our position on one of the good production tracks, or a harm to the other players. This can also result in a war. In that case the attacker and the defender can play war cards to defend themselves and all modifiers from the card and the army tracks (either land or sea, depending on the attack) are summed up. Next to glory and prestige for the winner, it comes to peace negotiations or plundering by the defeated defender. Quite interesting is that in the peace negotiations the defender can choose one out of three different possibilities by himself. Of course all of them are not what you would call desirable (loosing a territory, ducats or prestige points) but still it gives the player a fair chance to get back into the game soon.

Talking about ducats that are needed to play some of the cards as well as increasing army levels and other benefits , we come to the two other possible actions a player can choose from: development and taxation. Both increase the player's reserves of ducats. The latter from the territory cards a player possesses, the first from the different goods. Their benefit is given by the individual position on the corresponding track on the board. Most of these tracks also have a leader and economic gain, that further develops the player's abilities.


My first impression of the game was quite promising. At the beginning all the different symbols on the cards are really confusing. So it takes some time to understand how the game works. This is aggravated by the fact that a lot of cards can be used in different ways. But at some time in the middle of the game, something clicked and everything fell into place. The only bad thing was, that at this moment I lagged so far behind, that there was no chance catching up again. Although the game lacks a totally fresh idea, it seems to be a well designed classical Euro game. Many people asked what we were playing, so you can see that it seems to be quite appealing, too.

So with this I am ending my daily reports for our coverage this year. Tomorrow I will attend the fair alone with my son, so I will probably see totally different games again. Hard to believe that next week I will be back in the real world again, but there are still two days for me to recover. So thank you for staying tuned, I hope you enjoyed my impressions and it is up to Frank now to bring the coverage to an end.

Okay, the breather in the outside area has been quite helpful for me, but before I enter Hall 3 now for another real highlight of the show, I would like to send a big THANKS to Ralf for once again assisting me so much with these daily reports. Together we stand, fighting the madness of ever more released games each year, but I somehow feel that we still get enough information together to show you an interesting mixture. But onwards we go!

Playtesting Session: The Ancient World (RED RAVEN GAMES, Booth 3-P113 - Schwerkraft Verlag)

Over the last few years Ryan Laukat has established his own label RED RAVEN GAMES as a source of unusual and beautiful games, and indeed he deserves admiration for the fact that he is designing and publishing his games as a one-man business. He has the ideas, creates the games, illustrates everything and even handles the whole production and distribution process. Kudos for this - even in the games industry so much effort of a single person is rather unusual!

As some of you will remember from my coverage in 2012 and 2013, I have been rather fond of Ryan's games Empires of the Void and City of Iron, and these ranks have been joined late in 2013 by Eight-Minute Empire - Legends, a rather cute area control game which is driven through a common card deck and features an unusual short playing time. However, as it turned out, 2014 now has become even more of a Laukat-year for me, since I have backed all three of his new Kickstarter-projects: The City of Iron - Experts and Engines expansion has been delivered in August, and Eight-Minute Empire - Legends - Lost Lands is scheduled early next year, but today I was able to collect a new big game directly from Ryan here at the SPIEL. With my fondness of Ryan's creations I was really looking forwards to check out The Ancient World, and today I am more than happy to share my initial thoughts with you.

Let's start with some common facts: The Ancient World operates on a worker-placement mechanism, featuring a beautiful gameboard with different locations where the players can send their citizens to perform different kinds of actions. The players aim to gather military strength which will enable them to fight the horrible Titans, a crowd of mystic creatures which have been terrorizing the land since time immemorial. Defeating a Titan will trigger various benefits for a player, but most important is the fact the he will keep the Titan card, giving him one or more banners of the five ancient tribes roaming the land. At the end of the game the players will count their Tribe banners on all their Titans and Empire cards, and the different sets of banners then will be transformed into victory points in order to determine the winner of the game.

To fight a Titan, a player needs at least one army for an attack action, and in addition combat symbols from useful Empire-cards which have been purchased to strengthen a player's capital city can be used as well. However, armies in The Ancient World are not simply purchased and then can be used forever, but instead an army needs to be paid in order to attack. The first attack of an army will cost the player one Gold coin, but money paid to an army always will be left on the army card and any subsequent attack then will cost one more Gold coins than the total of coins already placed on the card. So, the second attack will cost two Gold coins, the third attack four Gold coins, and the fourth attack seven Gold coins etc. As can be seen, the long-time use of an army quickly will deplete a player's treasury, and so a time will come when an active army is no longer profitable and needs to be retired. This can be done by purchasing a new army, and as a nice feature the new army will be trained by the old army, allowing the player to place the retired army beneath the new army card so that it increases the fighting strength of the new army. This procedure may be repeated several times, and it is connected with some interesting timing-considerations since the army chosen for retirement may not have been used during that round.

However, hiring efficient armies and purchasing Empire-cards of course is not as easy as it may sound, and so the players will face certain limitations which they must efficiently tackle in order to play successfully. As might be guessed, one limitation is a player's treasury, and Gold coins can be obtained either by sending a citizen to work or by owning Titan and Empire cards which give the player a continuous income. In turn, Empire cards can be purchased by money, but once again the player is faced with certain restrictions. For one, each player's capital only has a limited capacity for new Empire cards, and this needs to be increased by obtaining Districts and Titan cards. In addition, some of the more powerful Empire cards also require Knowledge tokens in order to be built, and this - once again - can be gained either by a citizen action or by possession of a Titan or Empire card generating a Knowledge token each round. A player who wishes to purchase a new army also has to observe a limit, but this time it is the army limit which in turn can be increased by means similar to the increasing of a city's capacity.

As you can see, the game features some elements which are rather typical for games where each player has to plan and build his own game engine: you must to A in order to receive B which, in turn, will enable you to achieve C, and for doing all this you have to observe certain restrictions. As indicated, the players deal with all this through a worker-placement mechanism. This alone will not seem unusual, but Ryan has adjusted the classic mechanism in a way which poses some interesting challenges for the players. So, the three citizens in possession of each player have different skill levels, and instead of capping the number of workers which can be sent to each board location the players face that restriction that a location which has already be used only can be entered by a new citizen if he has a higher skill level than the citizen(s) already there. This twist actually gives the classic mechanism an interesting new angle, since the players now are faced with the option of keeping others out of a location by sending a citizen with a high skill level. However, this means that the player's own higher-skilled citizen will be gone, making it harder for the player to enter other locations with his lower skilled citizens.

In addition, all this encourages a player to use a citizen for an action which increases his population with a new citizen, and that citizen will have a higher skill level than any other of the player's citizens which are already in use. However, to make things harder, a player who wants his population to grow needs to keep an eye on his food level, since each citizen needs a food symbol on the player's city or his Empire/Titan cards. If a citizen cannot be fed at the beginning of a new round, that citizen is considered to be starving and cannot be used for an action during that round.

Quite nice is also the possibility to send citizens to a player's own Empire cards. Some cards which can be acquired actually show their own opportunities for special actions, and so a player may use a citizen on a Caravan card to gain some gold, to the Desert Archive to get some knowledge etc. These actions are not really different from the possibilities available on the main gameboard, but they are exclusive to their owner, allowing him to save his higher skilled workers for more important actions.

All this should nicely illustrate the way the different options and limitations which can be found in The Ancient World interact with each other. It is actually quite interesting to see that the game does not draw its playing depths from a great choice of different actions and special abilities, but instead the players will need to focus on dealing with the comparatively simple needs of money, food, capacity and fighting strength in the most efficient way. All this can be done by fighting Titans and obtaining new Empire-cards, but whatever a player does he also needs to keep an eye on the Tribe banners provided by the new cards. Everything will be in vain if a player cannot show a collection of well-matching Tribe banners when the game is over, and so all considerations outlined above stand under the additional provision that they should be useful in terms of collecting banners.

In addition, the game features a nice degree of player interaction, most of it triggered by the ever-present timing considerations which are contained in the chosen worker-placement mechanism. There is always a risk that another player takes an Empire-card from the display or kills a Titan if I do not do this first, but the dilemma is always the same: you cannot act everywhere at the same time. So, you have to chose your actions on the basis of being useful to you and hampering your opponents at the same time, and as outlined above this classic scheme of action and effect is nicely boosted by the skill levels of your citizens, forcing a player to take the skills of other players' workers into consideration. However, player interaction does not stop here, but there also exist Empire cards which allow a player to use another player's Empire cards or which trigger a benefit for a player if one of his neighbors uses a specific action. All this keeps the players from focusing only on the events on their own player board, an observation which nicely sets The Ancient World apart from most other games of this type.

In the end, it is rather interesting to see how skillful Ryan was in re-aligning some elements known from City of Iron to form a new game. The purchase display, the use of Empire- and Military- decks, the limitation of available actions and the capacity limits all are known from City of Iron, but nonetheless The Ancient World has its own unique feel which sets it well apart from Ryan's earlier creation. Despite the good amount of individual cards The Ancient World feels somewhat lighter than average for a game of this category, and this is due to the fact that many of the screws and levers which can be operated by the players all lead to the adjustment of just a few basic factors. However, for me this is a feature which makes the game rather attractive, since it makes The Ancient World refreshingly different from other worker-placement games.

Just a reminder at this point! If you are planning to get this game, don't forget to add this year's Convention Giveaway here at Kulkmann's Gamebox. It's a new location for The Ancient World, and it can be found at the end of thursday's report.


Same hall, next stop! I rounded a few corners to meet Filip Milunski at the booth of POLISH publisher GRANNA, and here we were agreed to check out the new expansion for last year's CV.

Introduction: CV Gossip (GRANNA, Booth 3-H101)

During the last year it turned out that some players actually were missing a bit more direct player interaction in CV. So far every player is rolling the dice just to improve his own alter ego, but apart from the fact that purchased cards are removed from the display and become unavailable for other players no interaction can be found in the game. Filip said that this is going to be changed in CV Gossip, and so the most important element of the expansion are Gossip cards which form a new category of cards which can be found in decks for all ages. However, these cards actually mostly list detrimental effects, and because a player usually will not want to have such a card in his vita he will normally not purchase them. However, the Gossip cards cannot just be bought for a player's own vita, but they can actually be added to the vita of any other player, assigning the detrimental effect of that card to this specific player.

If the player wants to get rid of the effect, he has to cover it in the normal way by use of another Gossip card, and this card should have a less detrimental effect because otherwise the whole covering of a player's own Gossip card would not be helpful. However, in the end the Gossip cards will be scored for two victory points each, and so a player must decide whether he really wants to assign another player such a card because of the positive effects in the final scoring.

The other new type of cards included in CV Gossip are Fate cards. They form a special deck and two Fate cards always are available face up next to the other cards on display. The Fate cards always need either good luck or bad luck symbols to be purchased, and they usually open up unique opportunities to take some kind of special action. The ones which can be purchased for bad luck symbols can have small negative effects, but on the other hand a player can use rolled bad luck results to purchase them and possibly avoid a mishap which would have happened with 3 bad luck symbols.

Both types of cards actually blend in quite nicely with the cards and mechanisms of CV. In fact, they open up some new interesting possibilities for players to mitigate really bad luck. Of course the game would loose its sense if all bad luck would be compensated, but the players now can chose to shift some risks by the use of the Fate cards. The Gossip cards on the other hand can be used quite nicely to score off another player, but this will not get out of hand because the cards are covered in the normal way so that each player can suffer from one Gossip card at most.


Filip also has shown me the other new games available from GRANNA, among them Mr. House, a worker placement game from Adam Kaluza, the creator of K2. Although it contains reduced family rules, the main rules of the game qualify it as a typical gamer's game, with no luck and a tough resource management. The players take the role of building contractors who are out to construct a house, and in order to build the different elements they have to get the right resources and to hire workers. The workers only stay for a limited time and so a player has to manage his workforce in an effificent way in order to avoid downtime due to missing resources or workers, and of course some rules of real house building need to be observed so that, for example, the roof cannot be built first.


Another new game from GRANNA is Faras, a game about excavations where the players first fill the gameboard in a stepwise manner with archeological finds and hazards before turning all tiles over in order to begin the search for tiles matching their cards on hand. The players need a good memory to play this game efficiently, but the deck of hand cards contains some helpful action cards which may allow the players to re-inspect some face down tiles or to take other beneficial actions. When matching tiles are found, one goes into the player's collection, whereas the other tile is placed on the box inlay, simulating the building of a dam. When the dam has been built, the excavation site will be flooded and the game is over - a quite unusual type of timer.


Finally, and even less complex memory game is UFO Farmer in which the players take the role of Aliens who have specialized in abducting a farmer's livestock. Horses, cows, sheep and rabbits are the targets of these intergalactic thieves, and during each round the players first place their ufos over an animal in the central stock and then, in a stepwise fashion, they will take back the ufos. However they are not only allowed to take their own ufos back, but they can also chose another player's ufo if they think that they remember which kind of animal it has loaded. When all ufoes have been taken back, each player will once again have three ufos and their freight is revealed. The players may keep two animals if they got three of a kind, or one animal if they got three different species. However, no animals may be kept if they got two of a kind and one different animal. This seems to be a nice family game, especially if it can be used to replace classic Memory with a much more interesting playing mechanism.



On my way back to hall 1 where my final appointment of the day was scheduled I came upon the booth of German publisher NORIS-SPIELE where I found a quite unusual new playing concept. The artwork at the booth made me curious because this publisher normally focuses on children's games, and so I approached the press representative to ask what kind of game would be available here.


The announcement on the poster could not have been more fitting. The line of Mini Story games is small enough to fit into a trouser's pocket, and this amazed me even more because I couldn't possibly imagine what kind of game could be hidden in such a tiny box which is available at a price of 3 Euros.


Each of the games features a set of 36 cards, with usually six cards showing characters, some cards with inter-character relations and some more cards with secret goals for each player. About the other half of the deck are items and locations, and all these cards will be used to play a story in roleplaying fashion.

For this story each player around the table is assigned a character card, and between each player and each of his neighbours a random relation-card is placed so that it is known what kind of relation is shared by the players (a common secret, in love etc.) Each character has a small background story, and in addition each player receives a secret goal card which he must try to reach.

I felt like opening up a box of Zombia because it seems to fit in with this year's recurring theme, and the game includes a rules sheet which gives some general instructions how the game will proceed from act to act. Zombies appear, the player characters come together, they find equipment and try to fight the menace. They can use the equipment cards they are assigned and some basic rules for the elimination of Zombies are included, but everything else will be left to the imagination of the players. They need to roleplay and communicate, trying to convince other players to team up with them, to give them equipment or even to step in when the Zombies attack - most of this is left to the creativity of the players.


From my point of view this playing concept is as unusual as it innovative, but it's certainly also a challenge to convince possibly an RPG-unexperienced round of people to start more or less spontaneous roleplaying. Mrs. Rosshirt from Noris told me that the first Mini Story Atlantic City had been released last year (I must have overlooked this - no wonder considering its size), and people had been asking quite frequently to get more such stories. It is of course an experiment because it's hard to predict what will happen when such a game is presented to an unsuspecting gaming group, but for the price of a soft drink the risk seems to be absolutely neglectable. I have pocketed the game, it will be an interesting challenge for an upcoming gaming night…

But now let's go for the final playtesting session of the day! I want to get some sleep!

Playtesting Session: League of Hackers (MODAIDEAS GAME DESIGN, Booth 1-D148 - Swan Panasia)

More and more publishers are discovering cyberspace activities as an interesting thematic background for new games, but many of the known games like Android: Netrunner or the much older Edge City are fully-fledged boardgames with considerable depth and duration. I have tried to remember, but I couldn't come up with a singly speedy cardgame on this topic, and so my interest was piqued when I stumbled upon the new Taiwanese cardgame League of Hackers by Desnet Amane. For me, both the game and its publisher MOAIDEAS GAME DESIGN have been unknown until now, but the theme and the manga-style graphics instantly prompted me to learn more about the game.

So, League of Hackers indeed challenges the players to participate in a cyberspace conflict. In order to protect the web at large, these kinds of virtual conflicts have been restricted to an arena where the members of the Hacker's League can fight for their interest. Building up their own network cluster in the Wargame Arena, the players have to install servers and defense measures, but at the same time it's also important to attack the other players' clusters at crucial moments in order to collect victory points.

The game is played over three rounds which are subdivided into five turns each. At the beginning of each round all players receive a hand of 8 randomly drawn cards from a common deck, and in addition a choice of Server-cards will be arranged in a common display so that they can be purchased by the players. These Server cards show two to four security risks ("holes") in up to four different colors, and it will be the aim of the players to keep these holes free of attack damage until the end of a round when victory points can be collected for clean holes. However, points cannot only be scored by defending a player's own servers, but at the same time points will be awarded for successfully placing damage tokens onto other players' servers, and so the players may go for an aggressive or a defensive strategy, but it will be most sensible to try a mixture of both.

The deck of cards available to the players contains Attack and Defense cards, and the players will use their hand-cards for an action and/or for fueling this action. So, the card usage in League of Hackers shows some similarities to games like Race for the Galaxy or San Juan where the cards are also used for actions and payment. However, a major difference to these games can be seen in the fact how the player's actions are handled, since the action of a player is not determined by the type of card(s) chosen, but by one of four action tokens which a player places on top of his chosen cards.

To understand this better, let's have a look at the organization of an action sequence. At the beginning of a turn, each player secretly choses one of his four action tokens to determine his action for the turn, and then the actions will be revealed and resolved step by step depending on their type. The possible actions are Install (purchase of a Server), Mitigation (server repair), Defense (playing a Defense card) and Attack (attacking other players with an Attack card to distribute damage). If a player has chosen Install or Mitigation, he has to place a number of his hand cards under the action token, and when the action is triggered the cards under the token will be used to pay for the server or the repair action. Attack and Defense work in a similar way, but here the topmost card needs to be the card the player wants to use. All cards placed in addition will be used to pay for the chosen Attack/Defense card, and in case of an Attack the action will cause more damage with every card paid.

The use of the action tokens may seem to be unnecessary because the aforementioned games could do without them, but they have a valuable function in League of Hackers. So, the four types of actions are almost always available to the players, not just when they have received a certain hand of cards. This clever trick neatly reduces the influence of drawing luck, since the players always can use their hand cards in the one or other way without waiting for a specific card. In addition, the game's dynamics are kept in balance by the action tokens, because the general orientation towards damaging other players' servers would not work well if the players would be cut off especially from attack and repair actions by bad drawing luck.

However, even though the four types of action are generally available, the players face a different type of restriction. So, a new hand of eight cards is only distributed at the beginning of a round, and this effectively means that the players have to play through the five turns of a round with a shrinking hand of cards. This limitation forces the players to make really tough decisions: is it better to purchase an expensive Defense card, or is it more sensible to reinforce an Attack card with some valuable other cards in order to cause damage to the servers of some carefree opponent. Or, is it even better to use them more economical, keeping some cards back in order to use them in later turns. The players need a good timing in order to choose a fitting moment for each of their actions, and they do well to keep an eye on the number of cards available to their opponents in order to make a guess at their next move.

As said, Attack cards will be used to distribute damage tokens onto the holes in the other player's servers, and the color of the holes attacked depends on the color of the used Attack card. However, a cautious player may have installed some Defense cards, and these cards will give him a defense capability for one or more colors. The strength of an attack always is modified by the victim's defense capability of the same color, and only excess damage will be placed on the victim's server. All Defense cards remain permanently with the player who has installed them, and apart from increasing the player's defense capability these cards also list special card effects which are useful for the actions of the card's owner. So, each "Incident Response" card owned will increase the efficiency of a Mitigation action, whereas a "Trojan Horse" will increase the amount of damage dealt during an attack which uses a color specified on the card. "Auto Recovery" cards on the other hand will allow their owner to reduce server damage by the end of the round, and "Deep Security" increases a player's defense capabilities in all colors. Ten different types of Defense cards exist in League of Hackers, and the players are challenged to install a wise combination which protects their servers and boosts actions against other players at the same time.

There is no real warm-up phase in League of Hackers - the players start attacking each other right from the beginning. Like in a good trick-taking game, the dynamics found in League of Hackers are quite remarkable, with the players warring to get the upper hand in this virtual conflict. To give players who have fallen behind a chance to get back into the game, the total amount of damage which can be placed on servers is limited and in addition all damage will be removed by the end of each round after the distribution of victory points. But despite all this protection a heedless player still faces a hard time if he presents himself too open for other players' attack actions, and so everybody needs to watch his back for the whole virtual duel. As a matter of fact, the fusion of a high degree of action with a nicely fitting theme is a big plus of League of Hackers , because many other cardgames with such a high degree of player interaction usually are quite abstract. Here League of Hackers is a real difference, and it should be hoped that the global distributors will pick up the game and make it available for a broader public, since the 80 copies available here at the SPIEL were sold out already yesterday.

By the way, have won against Desnet Amane with 53 to 52 points. So this game must be good indeed!

Well, I better get to bed before I start to boast even more…


Sunday, 19th of October 2014

Oh no! We have reached Day 8 of this year's SPIEL report, and this means that the SPIEL already has ended while I am typing this lines. It's somewhat sad that all is over now, but this last day at the show once again had been a splendid experience.


As those of you who have followed my previous reports will know, sunday means that it's Ladies Day since my wife Nicole actually accompanied me to the SPIEL. I have no planned meetings for this day, but instead I usually just follow my wife to see what kinds of games catch her interest. She usually comes up with a quite interesting choice, sometimes a bit off my usual taste, but always games which get to like as well.

Well, today actually one thing has been planned in advance, and this was our first game of the day. Nicole wanted to play Dragonscroll because of the rather cute Dragons and the unusual tower, and so we spent our first visit to the booth of FRAGOR.

Playtesting Session: Dragonscroll (FRAGOR GAMES, Booth 1-G157)

Usually the roles in fantasy boardgames are clearly defined: On the one side you have the player characters - wondrous wizards and valiant fighters who are trying to save the world from some monsterous threat - and on the other side you have the hordes of monsters who are managed by the game itself and are waiting to be killed by the heroes. But the Lamont brothers would not be known for producing unusual games if they weren't able to come up with an unexpected variation of this setting, and so their new game Dragonscroll lets the players take the role of some dragons roaming the countryside, ready to snack on stinky Orcs, vain Knights, wimpy Elves, dumb Dwarves and pesky Wizards. Sounds like a typical setting for a FRAGOR game, doesn't it? And indeed - jokes and puns are inevitable.

Each player begins the game with a little dragonling, and for setup a layout of two times two landscape tiles is placed on the center of the table with the dragons taking position on these landscape tiles. During his turn, a player first will reveal a newly drawn landscape tile from the common stock, and then he has to add it to the already known lands in a way which matches the landscape shown on the tile. The available types of landscapes are pastures, woods and mountains, and during the game connected areas of each of these types will be created by the players. In addition, the player also places foes onto the newly placed tile as indicated on the tile, so that the gameboard will contain a growing number of foes with each new tile.


However, the foes are not just nice decoration - they are here to be eaten by the players' dragons, and so the active player may move his dragon after finishing the placement of tile and foes. A dragon may be moved for an indefinite number of landscape tiles, unless he changes the terrain which forces the dragon to stop after the first step onto new terrain. If there are any foes on the tile where the dragon stops (or Orcs on surrounding tiles) it will be time for fireballs!

Rolling dice? How boring! A nifty combat mechanism based on cardplay and in-depth analysis? Too complicated! No, when the Lamonts are talking about fireballs, it's indeed balls of fire! So, the game contains a carboard construction called The Flaming Tower of Death, and the active player will throw a number of fireball-marbles into the Tower which corresponds to his Dragon's current strength. The Tower has four exists, and depending on the exit taken by each fireball a matching foe now may be eaten. However, things are a bit more tricky as it may seem, and so a Dragon is obliged to eat all foes within range in a single attack. As indicated, foes on the same space and Orcs on surrounding spaces are in range, but in addition all Elves within the same wood or Dwarves within the same Mountain range are considered to be in range, and so the right space for a Dragon attack needs to be chosen well if the player wants to succeed at full extend. If not all creatures can be defeated, the player may still keep the defeated foes but he must also take a token which will cost him one victory point by the end of the game. If too many battles end this way, a considerable amount of victory points will be lost to the player.

Defeated foes can be collected, and they can be used either for increasing the Dragon's strength (more fireballs!) or for fulfilling "Munching"-quests on special Dragonscroll cards. Each player starts with three of these Dragonscroll cards, and additional cards can be acquired during the course of the game. If the player hands an amount of defeated foes which matches the requirements of one of his cards back to the stockpile, he may place this card beneath his Dragon's character card, continuing his storyline and counting as victory points by the end of the game. Two more types of Dragonscrolls exist, and these are "Discovery" cards which the player can score by completing landscape formations, and "Fireball" cards which require a certain number of foes to be defeated in just one turn. If fulfilled, these cards can be revealed and scored as well. Coincidentally, this triple way of scoring resembles a bit of the landscape, growing and eating scoring possibilities found in Takenoko, but this similarity is only superficial because the scoring options have been embedded in a quite different playing mechanism. A quite cool "Lamontish" idea is the fact that each fulfilled card is placed beneath the player's Dragon to reveal a piece of story, and at the end of the game each player's Dragon will have developed a quite various storyline.

The basic playing mechanism outlined above is enriched further by some other elements, and so some of the landscape tiles actually list cities which will be placed on them. When a Dragon does battle on a space neighbouring a city, a black Wall marble will be put into the Tower amongst the fireballs, and all fireballs leaving the Tower on the same side as the Wall marble will be useless because the foes listed on this side will hide behind the city walls - those dirty cowards! Of course all this could have been reached the one or other way by the use of dice, but once you have started fireballing your foes you will quickly discover that the use of the Tower is much more amusing and fits the general spirit of the game quite well.

Another specialty not listed yet are the Wizards and the members of the Royal Family. Wizards are pesky indeed, and whenever a Wizard is discovered the player will draw a Wizard card which lists the abilities of this specific Wizard. In game terms this usually means that the combat gets more difficult (by adding the wall marble etc.), and so Wizards are not easy to fool! Members of the Royal Family can be collected and munched as well, but since the Dragons recognize noble blood it is much more reasonable to keep them and deliver them to their home city in order to collect a nice reward.


Finally, to introduce a bit more of tactics, each player receives a Destiny card which is revealed by the end of the game, and these cards allow the players to score bonus victory points for certain conditions. On the other hand, the players also get a deck of three bonus action cards, and each turn one of these cards must be used to draw and place an additional landscape tile, to draw a Dragonscroll card or to get a temporary additional fireball. However, after its use the card is turned over and reveals another bonus action, so that not every action will be available every turn.

After their strategic deckbuilding game Spellbound the Lamonts now have returned to the sector of family boardgames. With the hilarious Tower and the fireball-marbles, the game certainly offers a good degree of fun and chaotic moments, but as the outline above should prove there is more mechanism and depth than may seem on first sight. Just like the Big Wave inPoseidon's Kingdom, the Flaming Tower of Death is not just a typical trademark of a FRAGOR game, but it serves its own special function and it is part of a nice and entertaining family game of medium playing depth. Of course, the Lamonts could have used dice - but on the one hand dice with four sides are not really nice to roll, and in addition this would also have required special dice for walls etc.. So, the Tower is not just more freaky, it really serves its purpose better than a bunch of dice. There is also some potential for tactics, and the players certainly need to ponder their chances to win a battle against a high number of foes, so that it may well pay off to approach smaller groups of foes in order to leave the battlefield victorious. Coming with the typical resin figures and an unusual thematic background, Dragonscroll once again is a real gem which stands out from the usual mainstream of family games. Let's hope it will become available as a new edition!

By the way, of you look at those Dragons, mine was the left one with the big belly. Among Orcs and other groceries It had enjoyed some delicious Elves during the game, and together with the rescue of an Elven prince these deeds had secured my dragon a place in eternal Dragon history…

Scouting the much less crowded halls to an overview, the directly the next game which Nicole wanted to play was something quite typical for her taste: cute graphics and an unusual theme compelled us to test Night of the Grand Octopus from IELLO, and so we sat down and assumed the role of cultists who wanted to collect the needed ingredients to summon the dreaded Grand Octopus.

Review: Night of the Grand Octopus (IELLO, Booth 3-M109)

The gamebox promised a rather short playtime, and indeed a four player game justs lasts for about 20 minutes. Before the game can start, three ingredient tokens are placed into each of the six places on the gameboard (all of which are part of an ancient University for Sorcery), and in addition some outlying places with additional ingredients are placed next to the main gameboard. Each place contains different ingredients, but all ingredients at a place are of the same kind. The victory conditions sound quite easy: By the first to collect four different ingredient tokens, wake up the Great Octopus and become his favourite minion.

The players use secret choice wheels to indicate the targets of their cultists upcoming moves, and when all players have made their choice all of them will reveals their wheels simultaneously and place their cultists to the new location. No specific rules for movement need to be observed, the locations just need to be adjacent to each other.

If a cultist ends up alone on a location, he is allowed to take one of the ingredient tokens if he does not already possess one of this kind. However, things get more complicated if one or more other cultists are present, because now the players will have to discuss what they will do. The easiest thing is to agree to do nothing, and in this case no one in this location may take an ingredient this round. However, if the players can agree on one cultist, that cultist actually may be allowed to take an ingredient token. You might ask yourself why a player should agree to another player to receive a token, and the answer to this lies in the fact that, if the players cannot agree on anything, they will have a small fight which results in every cultist loosing a lifepoint. Now, if a player is low on lifepoints, this might induce him to agree to another player taking a token from this location, because otherwise another lifepoint would be lost.

In addition, each player also controls an Offspring figure, a huge thug who is meant to scare and beat up other players' cultists. The movement of the Offspring is controlled by a second hand on the secret choice wheel, and whenever a player's cultists shares a room with another player's Offspring no token may be taken, but instead all present cultists will loose a lifepoint. If a player actually sends both his cultist an his Offspring to the same place, the Offspring actually will be removed from the gameboard for one round, whereas the cultist now is free to move to one of the outlying places next to the gameboard. Ingredient tokens may be gained there as well, and during his next turn the player will return to the gameboard in the normal fashion, once again also placing his Offspring.

The game ends when either a player has collected all needed ingredients or when all but one cultist have been removed from the game. Due to the rather short playing duration the removal of a player is not negatively perceived, and once the first player drops out the game will end even faster. This also suggests that Night of the Grand Octopus shouldn't be taken too seriously, but instead the players just should best play in a whacky mood, being ready to guess, counter-guess and triple-guess where they should move their cultist and where the other players possibly will move theirs. The game wants to be funny and entertaining, and this target certainly is reached on all aspects. Taking off immediately with the first round of moving, hilarious meetings take place in the different locations, and there will be some shifting alliances to stop a player who might get a lead in this crazy race. Some additional variation is added by the different kinds of outlying places, and so each of these places has its own special power like healing a lifepoint, stealing an ingredient from another player etc. So, grasp your hoods, put on a devilish smile and try to get the favour of yer olde Grande Octopus! And, by the way, having a kind French game instructor teaching you the game in English can be a cult-experience as well!!!


Staying in Hall 3, Nicole next wanted to check out whether we would be able to join a round of 7 Wonders in order to play the game with the new 7 Wonders Babel-expansion, and indeed we were lucky and got a seat at the REPOS booth.

Playtesting Session: 7 Wonders Babel (REPOS PRODUCTION, Booth 3-C104)

Cedrick Caumont and Thomas Provoost have returned to the SPIEL '14 with yet another new addition for 7 Wonders, the award-winning civilization game which has brought worldwide fame to their publishing house REPOS PRODUCTION. Indeed, I had seen the prototype of the new 7 Wonders Babel expansions already a year ago at the last SPIEL, but as it seems the two publishers and author Antoine Bauza are following a strategy not to overburden the great mass of 7 Wonders fans with too many expansions in short succession. In addition, Babel was designed to stand in line with the previously released expansions Leaders and Cities, and so a lot of playtesting was needed in order to ensure that the full game with all expansions still is balanced.

The box of Babel actually contains two expansions at the same time. They can be played separately, and indeed even seasoned 7 Wonders players are counseled first to play each Babel-expansion on its own before combining both expansions or adding Cities or Leaders. Considering the fact that these new expansions do not just add new cards but completely new mechanics, it is indeed sensible to follow this advice, because players really need to get familiar with the new elements before a "full" game can be played at highest enjoyment.

The first of the two expansions focuses on the building of the Tower of Babel. During setup an empty Tower-board is placed at the middle of the table, and each player receives a hand of three randomly dealt Tower tiles which are then drafted following rules similar to those of the Leaders-expansion. When these preparations have been made, the game can start with the first age, and in principle all three ages then will be played through in normal fashion. However, there is one different in so far as the players now will get a fourth possibility how to use their building card in a given round. So, a player now can decide to discard his chosen building card in order to build one of the Tower tiles from his hand, and this new part of the Tower then will be placed onto the central Tower board.

The tricky thing about these Tower tiles is the fact that each tile lists its own special effect which will alter the rules of the game. So, some of the tiles will increase the costs of certain types of cards, whereas others may allow the usage of a neighbor's building in order to acquire a free "chain" building. Other Tower tiles may modify the value of military defeats or victories, whereas even other tiles may increase of lower prices for purchasing resources from neighboring players. The choice of possible effects is broad, and each of the 24 Tower tiles lists its own unique effect. This actually might cause a fear that the game may become overburdened by rules alterations, but this fear is needless because of the special nature of the Tower itself. Only three or four Tower tiles can be in play at any given time (depending on the number of players), and with the placement of the fourth and every following Tower tile the older tiles and their effects will be covered. So there is a chance to remove a highly unpopular effect, and in order to make investments into Tower tiles more worthwhile all players will receive up to 10 extra victory points at the end of the game if they have built all three of their Tower tiles.

The other half of Babel are the Great Projects of Babel in which all players may participate. At the beginning of each age a new Great Project will be revealed, any its shows a prestigious building which the players may build together. Each great project shows one of the basic building card colours, and whenever a player builds a building of that colour he is allowed to make an extra payment in resources/coins in order to take a Participation token from the Great Project.

When the project had been revealed, a number of Participation tokens corresponding to the number of players minus one had been placed on the project card, and if the players should fail to collect all of these tokens before the end of the current age the Great Project will be considered a failure. In this case all players who have not acquired at least one Participation token during the current age will have to pay a penalty as listed on the project card, and this may be the loss of a building, money or victory tokens. If, on the other hand, the Great Project had been properly finished, all players who have participated in the project will receive benefits for their Participation tokens. These benefits range quite widely from money, military strength or victory tokens to a free building or an increase of the value of the player's wonder stages, and to keep track of all these effects a total of 166 (!) additional tokens has been included in Babel. Mind you, this is not 166 unique tokens, but apart from additional coins and victory point markers the expansion still includes multiple copies of a good number of new effect markers.

7 Wonders Babel is indeed a new milestone for the developers of 7 Wonders, because the expansion greatly changes the general orientation of the game. Up to now the players had to focus mostly on the cards at hand during the drafting process, but now the development on the common Tower board and the Great Project need to be taken into consideration. This forces the players to think in rather different ways, since resources and money need to be re-directly especially towards the Great Projects which may - in turn - turn out to be a wise investment because of the associated benefits. It may seem like a gamble to speculate whether a project really will be finished, but usually the other players will have their own interest to finish the project because of the threatened penalty. But nonetheless things may get tantalizing if a project is still unfinished before the last round of an age.

The eponymous Tower is a wonder of its own, since it introduces a new degree of player interaction which is yet unknown to 7 Wonders. I like the fact that the negative effects brought about by some of the Tower tiles are mostly indirect, so that no player sees his buildings destroyed. Instead, these tiles will force the players to rethink their current strategies in order to avoid the impact of the negative tiles, and in most cases the drafting mechanism of 7 Wonders will give the players enough flexibility to do so. However, a well-timed new Tower tile may have some nasty effects especially if it is played during the last rounds of an age, and such a late placement can rarely be tackled properly. Quite interesting is also the fact that the Tower will develop develop rather differently from game to game. Sometimes the players will battle for Tower tile predominance in order to get unwanted tiles out of play, whereas at other times the players should be content with some beneficial tiles available in the Tower and so everybody will focus on their own wonder. All this proves for the renewed degree of variety which can be found in 7 Wonders Babel, and even seasoned players will be surprised how different it can feel to play one of their favourite games!

The day actually had progressed quite far at this point, and so Nicole and I went for a late lunch to Hall 2 where we purchased some Chinese food. However, staying directly at the food stalls is a somewhat smelling choice, and so we went into the galleria where it is loader but less smelly.


As Ralf has told you yesterday, he was roaming the halls with his oldest son today, and they were accompanied by Marco and Lutz, two friends from school and university who live at Aachen and who have brought their children along as well. The Galeria always contains some activity places especially for kids, and so we all met there and shared a coffee.


After our break we returned to Hall 2 where Nicole wanted to pick up the new mini-expansion for last year's Ortus at the booth of FABLESMITH. The expansion consist of six leader cards, and each player will receive one random card which will give him a special ability during the game. In addition, the game also can be enhanced with a rather beautiful set of metal miniatures, and once again these figures had been realized through a crowdfunding project.



Our final find of the day waited just around the next corner, and here we came upon the booth of Polish publisher BOMBA GAMES which presented its two first games Black & White and Amber Route. Once again I was surprised by Nicole's taste for games, because she got aware of this booth due to the martial but beautiful artwork of Black & White. So, we were lucky to get a free table, and we started an introductory game.


Introduction: Black & White (BOMBA GAMES, Booth 2-E116)

Game designer Krzysztof Matusik has created to focus on a series of battles between two fictional nations possessing technologies of the 19th century, and the game uses a Stratego-like approach of hidden playing pieces on the battlefield. However, even though the opposing player doesn't know the exact type of unit he is facing, he will know the general type of the unit - infantry, cavalry or artillery. The game starts with the players selecting one of 22 missions (including 2 tutorial missions) and the players setting up the correct landscape tiles on the gameboard. The players then have the possibility to purchase army units using a point allowance system, and despite the fact that each player has several different units at his disposal only a part of them usually will be used in each scenario. The units are represented on the gameboard by wooden blocks with pictograms, but in order to allow the players an overview of each unit type and to give the game some thematic strengthening each unit type is also represented by a nicely painted unit card. The players use a big screen so that each player can set up his units on his side of the battlefield, and then the combat can begin.

During his turn a player has a total of three action points which he may spend to move and attack with his units. Units of the same type may share a space and may move together for just one point, and attacks may be made either with melee weapons or in form of a ranged attack. To determine the outcome of an attack, dice are rolled and armor adjustments are made, and if a hit is scored the attacked unit will be rotated 90 degrees to indicate that it has lost a lifepoint. In addition, a wounded unit is checked for its morale, and if it doesn't flee from a melee battle it is actually allowed to strike back in order to try to wound the attacking unit.

Landscape features and lines of sight must be taken into consideration, but all is done in a very streamlined and easily accessible way which partly resembles the rules found in memoir '44 or Battlelore. However, the units at each player's disposal are more versatile, allowing them special moves or to shoot with firebombs or smoke grenades which leads to the placement of additional tiles on the gameboard. In this connection, the rules for artillery attacks are quite neat, so that an artillery unit which doesn't hit receives a targeting token which means that it can zero-in on its target for the next turn.

Even though the gamebox is quite small, the game comes with a high amount of playing material, including the aforementioned mission cards and even some special leaders for each side. As I could experience today, the battles can be quite brutal if a players takes too much of a risk, because the opponent will score the purchase value of each destroyed unit. If a certain threshold is reached, the game is over, and due to my careless advance Nicole gave me a quick and merciless 12 to 3 beating. Well, I hope to take revenge during our next game at home!


With Black & White in the shopping bag we finally ended our playtesting sessions, and so the time has come to lead this year's SPIEL reporting to its end. I usually quite like to compare my choice of games with the games leading the official rankings, and so I checked the final ranking at the FAIRPLAY booth to see which games had scored high in their scout-poll. Once again, I was amazed to see that I had covered just one game of the final 12 games during all these days of reporting, but it always brings a smile on my face to see that I am not really following a mainstream taste.


With Alchemists I have presented to you not only the winner of the Geekbuzz-poll at BOARDGAMEGEEK, but actually one of the contestants for my own convention hit. It has been a rather high number of interesting games which I had been able to playtest during the show, ranging from quick cardgames like League of Hackers to the challenging deduction game Alchemists. However, I have decided to give my special recommendation to a game which is positioned in the middle.

Kulkmann's Convention Hit 2014


For some years I have been looking for a good civilization-type game which is light and small enough to serve as a travel game but which still offers the players an interesting choice of options and some possibilities for real decision making. At first sight I thought that Roll through the Ages would serve this purpose, but the game actually offers no real player interaction and it can have some downtime especially in a four-player game. Rustan Hakansson Nations The Dice Game not only solves the problem of downtime by implementing the playing-sequence of Nations with one action per player, but Rustan actually succeeded creating an almost perfect strategic dicegame. Of course there is some luck involved, but the players still have a quite high degree of control over their actions by the enhancements they can obtain during the game, and so luck isn't the end of the story. In addition, the game plays incredibly fast with Rustan and me needing approx. 40 minutes to play a full game on friday, and this short period of time has been so action-packed that time virtually has flown by. For me all this a strong indication that I have sampled a rather addictive game, and indeed I cannot really wait for the next possibility to play it again!

However there is more than one game waiting to be tested and reviewed, and so you may have a look at my final stacks of games from this convention.


And as all things must come to an end, Nicole and I went to say goodbye to friends from many countries who were going to leave Essen either tonight or tomorrow. Our last visit was to the booth of the AUSTRIAN GAMES MUSEUM where we had a nice long chat with Ferdinand de Cassan, and concerning all the things which happened during the last 12 months we agreed that life certainly is not a game, but a life's time should be used to play games as often as possible!


Game on!

And see you all back here for another week of SPIEL reporting in October 2015!!!

Greetings from Essen!

Frank Schulte-Kulkmann

P.S. The Prize Draw still will be open for a few more days! All winners will be notified! And once again THANKS for all those great guestbook-entries. Reading them in the middle of the night after finishing a day's report it is just the motivation I need for the next convention day!

Wednesday, 29th of October 2014

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



New Dawn


Lap Dance




Robinson goodies

Chow Yan Lung

Notifications have been sent! Congratulations to all winners!

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