Okay, so there are a million and one “Essen” reviews and I am not going to try and make a long run through. However, the reason there are so many reviews are because these first impressions can actually be really helpful for the retail releases later in the year. Given my aim is to help people identify games to buy and strategies to play I will make a short comment on the game and the strategies from just a first impression:

Istanbul (Dice Game) – Short dice game based on the theme of the original market game. Roll the dice, make the combinations and trade the goods. You can play a variety of strategies – from getting coins, to getting goods or getting buildings. There are lots of paths and different ways to create chains. Sure you would need to block as much as optimise, but also worth noting this is a rush to a small number of points! Interesting, and one of our group did end up taking this one home!

Pile Up Rush – Balance wooden pieces on a small wooden disc – if you run out you win, if you knock the pile over you lose. Great mini version of junk art and good in teams or solo play because it’s quick and simple, but the shapes and the base allow you to create really clever balancing. Watch out not to leave smooth surfaces for the opponent to just pop a piece on to!

Ice Cool – Time to start flicking! As a dexterity game it’s an interesting game of chasing the other characters around the board. Do you risk going near the hall monitor to get the fish, and can you bounce round the wall to get two in one turn?! Tough choices, but more likely because you won’t be able to aim that much at first!

Masmora – It’s interesting to take the dungeon crawl mechanics and make a competitive game. The challenge however is that this feels like a slightly arbitrary exploration game with an ability for players to gang up due to turn order. Yes, you can chase down leaders but a shrewd player will play for second and then rush into a room full of monsters with a few good cards and snatch an early win (or have the cards to rush passed the player that triggered the final round).

Dragon Ranch – Tableau building card game with set collection. The innovative elements of the eco-system are very smart but the game was still a prototype with a few confusing icons from previous versions. Would definitely watch out for this one as it comes back round, especially as the strategy changes by the points tiles revealed in the first and second rounds of the game.

Spaghetti – A dexterity game of picking up shoestrings from a ball of shoestrings. Okay, some how that sounds harsh but that was the sum total of it. You had to take recipes that dictated what you could pull out, but the reality was that after two rounds you probably can’t actually complete the contracts. At that point, it’s a bit confusing as to what happens. The strategy is definitely to take the shoe strings that are worth more points… but that’s about all I can say.

Time of Crisis – A GMT war game across the roman empire; the fall of it specifically. The game is a deck management game where you can draw any cards from the deck each turn but then discard them. Once discarded you have to run through the rest of the deck to get them back. It’s a challenge therefore to map what you will need this turn and next. War is a dominant strategy here, but there’s lots to be said for using political capital to simply abandon your initial locations and expand on the other side of the map. This incredible flexibility is a really interesting part of a map focused game – expect a review of this in the not to distant future.

Outlive – Post apocalypse colony development, but this worker movement game only has 8 actions and you each have 4 pieces. You can’t move where you already have a piece, and you can’t stand still! Managing where you can go is tough, and managing your rations through each night phase is a real challenge. However, this is a competitive game so you need to collect bullets and defend yourself. Also rush for the points – this is a short game!

Zombie Dawn – Keeping the theme going but adding a take that element to the post apocalyptic world. You play cards to explore and move, but also to throw zombies at your opponents. Gang up on the leader but don’t leave yourself unable to move or unable to defend. Make the most of the ability to run from the big fights, but trap others! Card management is key.

Zoo Ball – Get those flicking fingers back in motion and try to get your attacker to the opponents goal. Don’t forget to leave a defender behind. These guys need to cover the key areas of the field and make sure you aren’t exposed to a single long shot from your opponent! Great with two and four!

Mountaineers – First time to climb a mountain at Essen (but not the last!) and here you have to fight your way across the mountain. Try to complete your missions in the limited turns and manage your tokens as efficiently as possible. It’s all about climbing as much as you can on the limited supplies, but also in limited times. Get an upgrade that suits you, start in the right place, and watch out for the change in weather! About to come to kickstarter!!

Bonk –  Remember the bowling device for kids aim with – well they are back in mini form and this time you are throwing metal balls at a larger wooden ball rolling between the two teams. Very much a team game, but a lot of strategies at play – including starving the opponent of balls and using clearing shots to make the balls come back to you (shot on the diagonal).

Circus Top – Stacking circus acts to match the cards in your hand. Nice and simple, but watch out but your action might complete someone else’s cards. Watch what others do and try and get them to help you completing the patterns.

X Wing – How I have not played this until now is a mystery to me and even more so after playing it. This tactical game about movement and marginal choices is challenging. the core set will only give you a taste but the options and strategies for bluffing / sneaking behind / soaking up fire are fascinating!

Captain Sonar – The game was such a big hit last year, and normally I don’t talk about price but that’s the only reason I think I hadn’t got to this. It’s a group game, but it plays well with 4. However, at the price at Essen this just wasn’t value for money. The frantic game can be fun, but for a co-operative experience of this mayhem simply download Space Team from the app store and let real time chaos commence.

Mountains of Madness – Speaking of madness, this was a fun party game for serious gamers. I say that because the fun in this game is being careful to only speak when the group is meant to speak. That’s the part of the game when the madness takes hold. The madness cards are very mixed and create lots of fun. If you are trying to win though, watch out to not spend too long on the mountain – the top tiles offer a few ruins on the way to escaping!

Wanted Rich or Dead – A shoot out based on revealing which building you choose simultaneously. Exhaust the cash in the middle to finish, but watch out for that final round where a turn of the card could steal some key equipment for your opponent. Key to watch the other players, but also watch out for the asymmetric nature of each player’s hand.

Gangs of Britannia – Prisoner’s dilemma multiple times between multiple players. That is not an easy starting point. Through in intel cards and upgrades and this becomes an interesting and very tight game. Watch out though, because tricking and betraying the other player at a key moment is core to the game – this could break some friendships! Still on kickstarter (at the time of posting – so go check this out!)

Gang Up – A card game with some serious swings of power. It’s all about timing your run on the finish; if you go first other players will block you. Leave it too late and perhaps a card will hand a surprise victory or two players will earn the joint win! Co-operate at first, but there will be time to turn that trust to dust!

Space Freaks – A rush for points in the space first person shooter. Make your character and send your men out to fight. This is very reminiscent of old computer games where you try to achieve king of the hill win conditions and respawn when the other players catch you out! Watch out for the points – these are key to the win (more than the vengeance fights!)

Klask – Atari style table top game with a great physical design. Watch out for the other player pushing the white magnets onto your side. These could cost you the game. Also, try to push your opponent in their own goal by pressing them back.

Army-Mals – A tank movement game, similar to Space Freaks but with more controlled starting characters. Watch out for the power of the mill in the middle! Oh and don’t let your opponent steal that flag!

So that’s Essen or was Essen – watch out for many of these games in the next 12 months!