A Different Approach to Essen Spiel 2023

Part of the fun of Essen for me is reading the pre-event buzz. Which game do we supposedly HAVE to get? What game will we be running for when the doors open? What’s an obscure game that you won’t get anywhere else? Checking preview lists, reading top Essen game lists of other people, etc. I guess it’s kind of like a flee market: I don’t intend to buy most of it but it is still fun to browse.

I’m actually going to Essen myself this year, first time in I think 8-10 years. Usually I would save myself all the trouble (and money) and simply order a couple of new games online. But one of the benefits of writing about board games is that it puts a new perspective on the hobby and Essen for me. This time, I’m going there just for the people. In particular, I’m meeting up with the next guest of Origin Stories which will be exciting not only because this is a super interesting designer but also because it will be the first in-person (non-online) interview I’ll be doing. So for the first time coming to Essen, I’ll be packing two mics, stands and a recording device.

Still, if I’m there anyway, I might be checking out some new games I guess. A couple of people have asked me what’s on my list, so I thought I quickly write about it.

The One to Get

I work under the assumption that most of the games will be available (and cheaper) after Essen, so I can save myself the trouble of standing in lines and hauling them back by just waiting a bit. Instead, I typically pick up 1-2 games that I want to play with friends right after the convention is over. My pick this year goes to Evacuation. I still play Underwater Cities on a regular basis (plus there will be a promo for UC this year at Essen), enjoyed Messina 1347 (first impressions) and Woodcraft (first impressions). So this one should be right up my alley: unique theme, great artwork, heavy, has a solo mode.

Evacuation by Vladimir Suchy, published by Delicious Games

Honorary mention to Kutná Hora: The City of Silver. It looks like a very cool game and I indeed pre-ordered it for Essen pickup but I might as well not have. I’m sure it will be widely available immediately after Essen. So my money is on Evacuation as the one to get at Essen if I were only allowed to pick one game.

Kutná Hora by Ondřej Bystroň, Petr Čáslava, Pavel Jarosch, published by CGE

A Pain to Get Elsewhere

There are a few games that for one reason or the other will likely be difficult to get once Essen is over. A good example was last year’s Heat: Pedal to the Metal. It took me quite some effort to find a copy because I hadn’t gone to Essen. Similarly, it took me a long time to find a second hand copy of Kites. A friend (who had been to Essen) had shown it to me and I absolutely adored it immediately. Took me like 6 months to find a second hand copy because the publisher wasn’t able to restock for a while. So my pick in this category goes to Skyrockets. It’s small, it sounds a bit too derivative from Kites, and it hasn’t gotten any buzz so far. These are all reasons why I think it will be difficult to pick up later, so I’m getting it now.

Kites by Charlie McCarron, published by Floodgate Games

The One to See What’s It All About

This is the category of games I’ve heard a lot about from other content creators but haven’t been able to get my hands on yet. Basically the main reason to get it for me is to see how good it really is and satisfy my curiosity. This pick goes to Sky Team. Nowadays, it’s rare for me to play dedicated 2p games instead of playing a heavier, more complex game. But still, this one sounds like a lot of fun and it’s not available in Germany yet. So you can bet I’ll pick one up.

Sky Team by Luc Rémond, published by Le Scorpion Masqué

The Sentimental Pick

This category is the game I know nothing about but I know I want it. I’ll just get it because the idea of it makes me go all warm and fuzzy inside. And this pick goes to High Season: Grand Hotel Roll & Write. There has so far only been one roll/flip-n-write game that I enjoyed playing more than 3-4 times, and that was On Tour (review). So the odds are stacked against this one. But Grand Austria Hotel is one of my all time favourites, so sure as hell I’m going to get this one.

Update: Seems like it will be demo-only unfortunately.

High Season from Virginio Gigli, Ryan Hendrickson, Simone Luciani, published by Lookout Games

Getting It Out of My System

Essen is also a great opportunity to try and not buy games. For me, I have been fascinated by Senjutsu: Battle For Japan since its crowd funding campaign. It looks amazing and yet all the game mechanisms scream to me a giant “it’s not for you, Alex”! But it looks so gorgeous that I’m still thinking about picking up a copy. Essen will be great to demo it and then I’ll finally know if I can put it to rest or have to buy a copy.

Senjutsu by Paul D. Allen & James Faulkner, published by Stone Sword Games

Dud or Banger?

In a similar vain, this category represents games I couldn’t tell you if they might become one of my favourite games or will be a completely disaster and Essen is a great place to try them out. This pick goes to Aelderman. The theme fills me with nostalgia about playing the old C64 computer game “Hanse” for days on end when I was growing up. The busy board and art style makes me think this can’t be good. Rhado seemed pretty enthusiastic about it, but then again I don’t know how to interpret his enthusiasm anymore. This could be a dark horse of a game, but super unsure. 

The One I Hope to Run Into

Not a game, but a person. Or actually two. I’ve been fasciated with Splotter Spellen and Horseless Carriage (review) has been one of my favourite games of 2023 so far. I’d love to interview Jeroen and Joris for Origin Stories at some point, but they seem to be doing interviews very rarely if at all. Would be great to run into these two and just have a beer with them! Same for Vital Lacerda and Ian O’Toole.

The “I Might As Well”

Contrary to the rule, there are some things that might be worth picking up despite there not being any expected shortage, savings, special deals, or time criticality to them. This category usually goes to small or light games with the kind of “it won’t make a difference anymore and I’ll buy it at some point anyway” attitude. My pick this year goes to Concordia: Roma / Sicilia. It’s just a map, so easy to fit into my bag, but having a new map is always great since I play Concordia primarily using Solitaria (review). As Mac Gerdts himself said, this one is very different compared to previous expansions. Roma for example features regions with 4 (!) cities in them and ships are used in a completely different way. Sicila on the reverse contains the first element of luck ever in Concordia. I can imagine this expansion might be a controversial one for die hard Concordia fans.

Lucky Find

This category contains things I’ll be keeping an eye out for but won’t be disappointed if I won’t find them. It’s the long shots. This year, my pick are the metal coins for Caper: Europe. I just recently played this game for the first time but really liked it immediately. The production of the retail edition is great, but I’d love to have the metal coins for them and they don’t seem to be available in Europe. So maybe at Essen…?

Caper:Europe by Unai Rubio, published by Keymaster

As you can see, quite a short list. Of course I have some others on my wider “might check it out” list, but I seriously don’t plan on hauling back tons of games. I have VoidfallFit to PrintLa Granja: Deluxe Master Set and The Castles of Burgundy: Special Edition in heavy rotation for potential write ups anyway, so I might as well sit out some of the Essen newcomers a bit. Plus Votes for WomenCaper: Europe, and Planet are all in the mail and should arrive in the next few days … thinking about it, maybe I should pick up even fewer games at Essen.

So what’s on your list? What would be the 3-5 games you would pick if you couldn’t check out more at Essen? And which one game will you pick up at Essen because you won’t get it elsewhere any time soon?

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