Welcome back! Day 2 started off quite different for me than day 1: I was late. Well, I didn’t have any concrete plans or appointments, so I guess technically I was not, but rather on my own time. 😀
With all the crucial purchases already done yesterday, there was really no reason to wake up early or cut breakfast short. So it was already 11:30 when I entered the halls and was greeted by a somewhat absurd image: an empty hall with a single line coming out of hall 6 and going into the pre-hall. That one wasn’t here yesterday! Or had I been just too early for it? Anyway, I had a suspicion and quite right, it was the Disney Lorcana queue. I haven’t really paid any attention to the game so far but it’s astonishing how much buzz it is generating. I can’t remember waiting in lines back when I started playing Magic: The Gathering and MTG was the hot thing back then. Ah, simpler times.
So I walked right past it and immediately the vibe felt different than yesterday. There were noticeably more people around and again queues at various places of purchase. Some publishers handled it well with swift processing, others not as well, and some in creative ways. I liked Strohmann Games’ approach of fashioning a handy sign that the last person was supposed to pass on when the next person entered the queue.
I didn’t have a master plan for the day, so I just strolled through the halls and then decided to see if I can find High Season: Grand Hotel Roll & Write. Grand Austria Hotel is one of my favourite games and despite my lukewarm experience with pretty much all roll and writes so far, I wanted to check this one out. Finding it wasn’t easy though. In hall 6, I was pointed to hall 3. At the Lookout booth In hall 3, someone said it’s not for demo but I could buy it over there in the shop. What? A game that was confirmed to not be available for purchase at Essen was suddenly there to buy and they had not a single table to try it out? Didn’t make any sense at all to me but it was too good to not at least check out.
So I stepped into the shopping queue and had the bemusing realisation that Essen in some ways feels like an amusement park: tons of people, expansive fast food, lines everywhere, you’re spending more money than you were planning on, and some people seem to have gotten a fast pass ticket I didn’t have. I still haven’t found out how for example those people on the single Pampero table or Galactic Cruise table managed to even get a seat! 😀
Anyway, in the end – of course – it turned out I had spend like 10min and was in return rewarded by the knowledge that in fact there were no copies for purchase at Essen. So back to the Lookout play area I went and asked a DIFFERENT booth member. That one correctly pointed me to the Asmode area just one booth over and there it was, a single table with a pre-production copy on it.
If you know Grand Austria Hotel, you’re automatically familiar with most of the fundamental concepts. Roll all dice and place on the actions, an action is more powerful the more dice of that number there are, get rooms ready to then get them occupied and score bonuses. Advance on the emperor track to not get penalties and so on and so forth. The biggest difference to its bigger brother is the complete absence of resources and guests. Getting rooms ready as well as getting them occupied simply costs money (and the respective actions of course). The service helpers have been simplified into a single, narrow, player-asymmetric board that shows a handful of capabilities that can be unlocked and is put beneath the main player board. Some capabilities make stuff easier, others give end game VP, and so on. As with the original, the game lasts only 7 rounds of two dice-actions per player. Of course, there are various roll-n-write combo possibilities, mostly by occupying a room. Player interaction to a large part happens due to row and column bonuses as well as emperor track bonuses only being given to the first player that achieves them.
I played with a friendly couple that also knew Grand Austria Hotel quite well. We all remarked how quick and breezy the game is. I’d say it lasted maybe 30min including the teach. It was very pleasant, but my co-players remarked that they somehow had hoped for more and I think I agree with them. Since there is no conflict in taking guests, it feels less tight/confrontational than GAH. And since there are no resources (and guests), a big portion of the charm of Grand Austria Hotel is lost. This doesn’t feel like a hotel, it feels like a roll-and-write.
There seems to be skill to it though. My score was almost double that of the next player and I had felt I hadn’t even pulled off as many combos as I should have. Maybe this is one of those games that seems easy until you see someone play it on a whole other level? So call me interested, but since there is no official solo mode (yet), it begs the question of why someone should play this instead of the original GAH. We’ll have to see. Seen independent of the original, I would say this is one of the more enjoyable roll-n-writes I’ve played. I can see myself reach to this as a filler when playing a full game of Grand Austria Hotel would be just too much. Will definitely check this one out more when it is officially released.
Onward to Fowers Games. Tim had the day before very nicely pitched RUN to me so I wanted to check it out. It’s an asymmetric two player game where one player plays the criminal that tries to gather three out of four things before then escaping the map. The other player tries to find and stop the criminal in their track. What makes this interesting are a) the multiple included maps and b) the nice production. On the map I played, there are roof tops over which you can escape and ladders that limit your movement for where you can get on top of roofs. Other maps have canals to swim through and so on. The movement of the criminal also is limited by the fact that each type of movement is a very nice, thick tile that when used is moved from the player board to the separate board of spend movements (basically a history) that helps the other player deduce where the criminal might be. So you can’t go diagonally up-right more than once for example. I’m not a fan of hidden movement games but I liked this one. If I would have someone to play this with repeatedly, I would have picked up a copy.
On my way back towards hall 4, I came across what looked like a total mess. But players kept on piling on it. In Beaver Creek, players try to collectively build a damn but the player that gets rid of their boards first wins. On a turn, the active player rolls two dice. One indicates what they have to place (e.g. 2 beavers and one piece of wood) and the other how. This can range from just use your two pinkies to you have to place the wood with a beaver already balanced on top of it. If anything falls down, the other players say thank you (not mandatory) and discard one board they own which brings even closer to victory. It’s not the most innovative thing in the world, but it’s damn cute and only 20€, so I picked up a copy.
One place where it was very noticeable that more people were visiting the convention on Friday was the gallery. This connecting hallway is where some of the food stands are situated as well as children play areas. If it’s like this today, I don’t want to think about what it will look like on Saturday, the busiest day of the con. I learned a long time ago that Saturday is not for me and I rather use it to play the new purchases with some friends in the comfort of my own home. Walking through the halls today made me think I should next year try to get accredited for a press pass. Having Wednesday as press-only day to do all the purchases and then Thursday to meet people must be super nice!
Speaking of which: I literally saw not a single YouTube board game “celebrity” today. Perhaps it’s because for them it’s already day 3 and not day 2 and some decided to play games in their hotels? It might also be that with more people walking through the halls today, it was simply more difficult to spot anyone. Whatever it is, I was really glad I was able to visit Essen on Thursday already!
Continuing onwards, I checked out the PD Verlag booth where Concordia: Roma / Sicilia was played. Ever since my deep dive into Concordia when Concordia: Solitaria came out, I own everything there is for Concordia. So I didn’t need to playtest the new map to know I would buy it anyway. I’m curious how Roma / Sicilia will be received by players. They are very different to previous maps. I was able to play a Roma prototype a couple of times before the official Solitaria rules were completed, so that’s what I plan to do now: put the new map through its paces as a solo experience.
I also discovered a couple of things that were just plain funny or interesting to see. For example, Game Brewer – true to its name – had build up a bar where they sold beer from the tap in actual nice glasses. Great marketing that definitely worked because I was wondering where people had gotten their beer from long before I found the stand.
Another trend was that surprisingly many publisher’s had real gaming tables for their demo areas. As I wrote in the previous posts, I haven’t been to Essen in a while. But this felt rather new.
Another surprise-find was the booth of publisher LittleHouse Boardgames. I played Yin Yang, a beautiful looking abstract 2p game about gaining majority over the elements (i.e. fire, water, …) by activating and flipping tiles. Each round, the active player can flip one tile they currently control, giving it up, and then based on the type and number either flip all tiles of that type – or – flip as many neighbouring tiles as the number shows. At the end of the game majority is counted in each category with added points for “bets” players can do during the game by removing tiles they control. Unfortunately, the rules teach was incorrect so I can’t really say how much potential it has. But it felt interesting and for 15€ I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. Small detail that warmed my designer-heart is the fact that the six sided box is used as the round timer.
I also bought Hextremadura which is a solo game and looks like someone saw Dorfromantik and thought “I can work with that!”. I got a brief rules explanation but again it was bumpy so I just bought the game. It sounded interesting enough and I wanted to support the designer. Plus a new solo game is always good to have. In general, I liked the design aesthetic and ideas they are going for. Will be interesting to watch what games they will do in the future.
Quick update for Hextramadura: I’ve post-show tried it at home and it’s awesome! I’m not even halfway in and already like this 15€ solo puzzler a lot. Shame the rules explanations at the booth weren’t great due to the language barrier. Best read the very short rules online on the publisher’s website and then play at the booth. Will post more about it later. But playing this now, I wish I would have checked out more of their games than only this and Yin Yang!
I also went by the 2F booth to take a look at the new edition of Black Friday. I’ve only played the original once, many years ago, but still remember how intrigued I was. It’s a stock game where it’s all about timing and anticipating the next market crash. It worked really well. If you want clever, innovative ideas in board games, Friedemann Friese is definitely your man! I also picked up his solo flipper simulator Freaky Frogs From Outaspace(yes, that’s the official spelling). Didn’t demo it myself but it’s one of the games I plan to check out tomorrow.
As the day began to come to an end, I headed over once again to Delicious Games to take a look at Shipyard (2nd edition). I got a basic rules explanation and chatted a bit with a very nice booth member. Shipyard has quite a good reputation so I really want to check this out at some point. But I had bought enough big games already yesterday. So it’s a game for another time. One thing I noticed is that a) the dual layer player boards look amazing and b) the artwork of the main action selection board as well as the river tiles doesn’t really fit style-wise to the player boards. Maybe it’s just me, but I somehow felt it could all have been a bit more coherent. Still a good looking game though.
I also asked about their remaining supply of Evacuation. I didn’t get any specifics of course but it looks like sales are going well and my personal assumption (based on the dwindling stacks they had build up at the back wall on day one) would be that the game might sell out late Saturday or early Sunday. But who knows how many copies they still have in storage somewhere.
And to close this off, here is a shot of one of the outside areas. Today had been a lovely day in Essen, so a lot of people stayed outside to chat and enjoy the sun. I said it before but the whole food situation is much improved compared to the last time I went to Essen. Some of the prices are a bit bonkers though. Still, I had good food, so I’m happy 😀
And since I had been listening to too many podcast episodes of the Dice Tower and Blue Peg, Pink Peg, I also finally tried those weird spiral potato things. Not bad, not bad indeed! But I think next time I’ll rather have fries again. 😀
I hope you enjoyed this overview despite my haphazard way of exploring Essen today. As you can see, I skipped the heavy hitters and opted rather for trying to find some more unique and smaller games. There will be tons of reviews on those big games soon anyway and so I didn’t feel the need to spend Essen-time on them. Also I have limited capacity for games I can haul back home and I feel I’m already good with the bigger boxes I bought yesterday. And finally, I wanted to give you a feeling what it’s like to be at Essen. At some point, the rush to buy limited-quantity games is over and you don’t want to wait an hour (or more) for a seat at that big game you would like to try. That’s the time when you just walk around and enjoy what you find.
That’s actually it for me on location at Essen for this year. I’m on the train ride home to Hamburg as I write this. Saturday and Sunday, I’ll be playing the games I picked up (e.g. Evacuation, Kutná Hora: The City of Silver, …) and will try to give you very early impressions to potentially help with some buying decisions. I also plan to transcribe that impromptu interview with Vangelis (one of the authors of Hegemony) I had on Thursday about their upcoming game World Order and write about a few other Essen-related things. So stay tuned!