Day 2 at Essen is the Friday, I think this is often the quietest day – people say it’s the Thursday but that is definitely a day for enthusiasts to sprint to their preferred publishers and purchase the must have games of the year.
For me, and my friends, Day 2 was plenty more games:
Photosynthesis (Pictured): Starting the day with a game with a phenomenal aesthetic – this game draws you to the table. The simple mechanics of scoring light points for trees in the light, and then using that to plant more trees, was excellent. For winning players (I played a bad strategy), there is plenty of strategy in tree placement and tree growth.
One amazing mechanic I enjoy in this game is that the rotation of the sun can mean that in blocking a player from an angle, you are leaving them blocking you from another. Clearly you can avoid this by growing the tree, but the concept that this is a tight and challenging game really comes through.
There is lots to like in the three “day” version of the game and plenty of additional strategy to be found in the four “day” version. The game is a well crafted light to medium game with board placement strategies and piece utilization strategies to consider. Lot’s here for new gamers and veterans alike.
Magnate: This was a prime example of the growing trend that Essen stands include a wide variety of Kickstarters. Magnate, a city building game from a UK first time publisher, allows you to build up a city and participate in the rising real estate market. Until, that is, one or more of the players around you start to sell frantically and crash the market.
This feels like a game where you can get caught with very little means of escape if the dynamics change or indeed where you can hold on to your houses and benefit from a lucky avoidance of the recession. However, this is just a simple single turn push your luck mechanic – do you stick or sell when the first player sells. Everyone sticks – that player is out. Everyone but you sells – it will all be on the dice. Everybody including you sells – then the sale timing was irrelevant.
Now, it’s always tough when demoing a kickstarter, but I do worry with this one that the board has strictly better buildings to build in each turn and a collective known state about players buying / selling. Perhaps pre-programming the buy/sell action or having sites worth different amounts to different players – but I should be careful speculating too much, as this is their design and I respect what they have done with it!
For me though, it seems a game that is linear and event driven – I think the event of the market crash in the game is very exciting but I would want to see much more of the game before coming to the decision on it for Kickstarter next year.
The Estates: On Kickstarter earlier this year, and a rebuild of a previously popular game. The estates is a game theory dream – select a cube and start a one time auction among players. The auctioneer then gets to choose between paying that price, or receiving that price. Simple and yet deeply interesting – especially when the cash in the game is limited to the cash players start with.
There are also different types of components to bid for – building blocks of known colour and value, roofs of unknown value, road blocks to extend or shrink streets and the mayor to double the value. How will you bid on these various options and what will you do if you are running out of cash but others are picking items you feel are important. Extremes or poverty or richness are challenging to manage in this game and clever bidding strategies must be developed by all players.
However, a word of warning. This game is the most brutal of all the games I played this year. Players lose whole buildings, have their street become negative points at the end of the game or simply be squeezed out of the game in the early rounds when companies are bid for. If you don’t get a company at the start, then you are just trying to make sure everyone else gets negative points (extremely hard).
This sense that your whole game can be turned upside down by a single vindictive bid, or a bid from a player who doesn’t understand the impact this has for you / another player, can make this a tricky game to want to bring to the table. Against regular players and experienced friends this could become a very deep and interesting game, but not one for the family at Christmas or the friend who hates to be targeted in a war game!
Peak Oil: The world’s oil supplies are coming to an end and you need to invest in other technology before you run out of money. Interesting design for a game, and made even more interesting by the worker placement mechanics used. You will have multiple workers on the board at any time, using them and re-assigning them as you see fit. Majority of workers in an area grants bonuses whilst a diversified work force may be able to be more flexible to the board state.
This is a really interesting game where other players effect the options available to you and the price of technology in the market. The game was very enjoyable but I have to say that on inspection on BGG there seems to be some concern over the consultant cards in the game. It’s a real shame, and perhaps worth a second edition or some house rules because the base mechanics of this game are thought provoking and fun.
Klask: Another simple dexterity game, but this time using magnets. Knock the ball into the opponents goal but be careful not to fall in your own goal or pick up two white marks from the middle! This fun and frantic game is quick and simple to play. Unlike most similar games there are also some interesting emergent strategies trying to push a player back on their side or knocking the white markers towards them. Lots of options for skilled players and plenty of fun for those less attuned to it.
Biosphere: This had a fascinating look to it with 20+ dice per player littered across the board. The game is a area control style game where your dominance on the board will dictate the scoring of certain victory conditions (some are non-board related) and the first to 5 wins.
A really interesting game that accelerates to the finish as players develop a species to expand and grow on the board. Success for the species will result in advancement of your kind across the map – with different survival rates in each terrain type.
There is a lot to enjoy in this game, with differing paths to victories. In our game three players hit the finish condition in the same turn (out of four!) and none of us completed the same five conditions. It was a very well balanced and well crafted game which only lacks on the component quality / art design of a more significant publisher. This game was perfect to be picked up and distributed – the designer was also great fun teaching it!
Bonk: Wrapping up the day with a final dexterity game – dropping balls down a ramp to hit the ball in the middle towards the other team. Sounds simple, but again lots of variation between speed and accuracy. A fun and simple round off to day 2.