The final day of Essen, and two games played plus a round up of my thoughts.
Ragusa (Pictured): It takes a lot to build a city based Euro these days and find something new, but the clever design in Ragusa which allows players to place on a hex based grid and gain the three resources/actions that are adjacent to that node is such a design.
This game has a lot then to offer medium weight Euro game lovers, with points available for a variety of actions. The hex based mechanic is made even more interesting by the re-occurrence of an action every time another player places on the same hex – i.e. the player who goes to that hex first may play again each time a new node is filled (by them or someone else). Players will inadvertently trigger opportunities for their opponents, building the defense of the town, making secondary goods for future sale in the market or trading with international merchants.
Building up your resources and stepping in to the areas other players will re-activate is key. The use of the fish resource to allow for a “wild” resource means that you can avoid being blocked out of the game, whilst keeping the fish for the fishmonger will give a bonus to players for efficiency.
This very clever game is one then that our group will keep an eye on as it comes to kickstarter later this year. My one concern is the balancing of the objective cards – drawn during the game on a take-two-keep-one mechanic, if these are too different in strength then the winner will be decided by random card draws and not skill.
Time of Legends – Joan of Arc: When this came to kickstarter I wasn’t sure if this was the game for me. I had played miniatures games before, but I wasn’t backing Game of Thrones, I had passed on the first print of Mythic Pantheons and this game seemed to be more about the mini’s than the mechanics.
I could not have been more wrong, and backers of this game have a lot to look forward to. The use of multiple types of activation cubes, the combinations of activations over different hexes, and the use of special unit abilities means that this game has depth and weight well beyond a simple mini’s game.
Players will be asked to compete for asymmetric objectives with asymmetric units and heroic characters. Luck in the battle will be offset by further roles to bring those units back, and by a volume of dice to be rolled throughout a battle.
Yes as the games are smaller / less units, the dice roles will be more volatile, but as you utilise more of the game this will balance out. There is the opportunity for highly thematic and event driven games, whilst also giving scope to huge ambitious combats.
This game promises a lot, and I hope to see more of it at conventions, in retail and on the table.
So that was my experience of games at Essen Spiel 2018, but perhaps then to wrap up, it’s worth saying how this compared to previous visits. Firstly and obviously, it was busier. The hobby is growing and the space permitted for the show seems to be expanding. The number of people on the Saturday is almost overwhelming and the queues for lunch are always astonishing (especially given the food quality is not that great).
In comparison though to previous years the striking differences were the hall for miniatures gaming and kickstarer. The hall first, as an entire section of the convention is now given over to tactical miniatures games – purchase, gaming and painting. This is a huge part of the hobby, and no surprise that after Games Workshop’s revival this deserves its place of significance in the convention.
However, these games are very different to the rest and consume huge amounts of time (akin to RPGs). Whilst the gamers may be similar this final hall was quieter and will take time to build up the same following as the rest. It will be interesting to see if so much space is given over to this again next year, with so many new games released each year.
So Kickstarter. When I first went to Essen, you could split the games across a continuum from large successful publishers, to independent but growing publishers, through good quality first time publishers to a single designer with his prototype. Now however the good quality publishers have consolidated and the independents have used kickstarter to grow into significant commercial providers, and at the same time the earlier stage of the market has come together with a lot of kickstarter published / about to publish games taking stands at Essen. The quality of these market participants is much higher than the average new game designer even three years ago, and makes it incredibly hard for the one man design teams to still attend with their first game.
Sub Terra and The Estates are great examples of previous Kickstarters that are now established and high profile games; they and Gloomhaven (#1 on BGG) sit in the back halls of the convention pulling more players through to these tables. Whilst the large leading corporate players of Matagot, Asmodee and Indie Game Studios (nod to Stronghold Games), are building out catalogs of games for sale in Halls 1,2,3.
The standard is rising, the number of games released is rising, but 2018 did lack the outstanding games of 2017 – no new major breakthroughs such as Gloomhaven or Pandemic Legacy to rush for. This year was a stable year of good games, and perhaps a chance for gamers to search back through the archives and find some of those games that got missed but are well worth the time!