Essen '96, an (unoffical) Furry View

Report by Peter Card (

Just back from Essen with the Small Furries. My feet hurt.

This year we painted the alcove grey, which fortunately matched my trousers, as I hadn't thought to bring along a pair of expendable jeans for the setup day. Then we hid it behind the collapsible stand. Still, we knew the paint job was there, even if nobody else did.

[Ken: Every year the Furries have the most outlandish adventures setting up, tearing down, and/or transporting their booth. So far no one has been seriously injured unless you count the year that Peter had to play all of his games standing up after a particularly nasty stapple gun incident.]

We had Gibson's Fireside Football, Turf Horse Racing and Motor Racing games to sell, as well as some Breaking Aways, a variety of Rosthorne games, and the remaining world supply of Automania. Within 24 hours we had sold out of Fireside Football, but Roger Heyworth turned up on Thursday evening and arranged an airdrop via some late arriving friends. At the suggestion of Ian Livingstone, we ruthlessly slashed the price of Automania, and moved about half the stock by Sunday afternoon. We left then to catch the plane home. I hope that Paul Evans and his beautiful assistant got back OK with the van, as they had a carton full of my games purchases in the back.

In between manning the stand, cruising the flea market and carousing into the early hours, I did play some games.

One of the bigger new games at Essen was Serenissima from EuroGames, which is a trading/conquest games with really nice bits. The players each start with a major Mediterranean trading city (Venice, Istanbul, Genoa and, um, Marseilles), 2 plastic galleys and a load of sailors (blue cubes). You can fill your galleys with up to 5 cubes, a mixture of sailors and cargo (in a variety of colours). With 2 sailors, a galley can move two sea areas, and so on. Sailors also act as die roll modifiers in combat. With no sailors, your galley sinks! Sailors can also land to conquer ports, after their defenders have been eliminated. You earn money by delivering cargo to neutral ports, and even more money for enemy ports, but you eventually earn major victory points by owning ports with full warehouses. The money can be spent on more sailors, more ships, and fortifications. Certain combinations of cargo are required to build the different things at a port. There is creative tension between the requirement to bankroll your empire, and the need to fill up your own warehouses.

Due to stupidity, I now possess the English rules translation, courtesy of Mike "Sumo" Siggins' Rules Bank, but not the game. Duh! This situation will be rectified in the near future. The bits are beautiful, but fiddly, with some fragile flagpole thingies used to carry the various powers' emblems on galleys and ports, and as the English translation editorialises, "FOR GOD'S SAKE BE CAREFUL!"

I played X-Pasch, and came away unimpressed. In your turn you roll three dice, which can then be used to found new companies and/or increase your influence in existing companies. Either way, you need to match the company value with one, two or three dice. Spare die rolls can be used to draw new cards, which can be founded later. You score victory points each turn for companies you control. After a while it comes down to "roll the dice and splat the best target". Not recommended.

Liboretto is a fast and furious card game, that can most easily be described as multi-player Speed. Its just the thing for a post-midnight no-brainer. The bad news is that cards won't stand up to this sort of treatment indefinitely. From the point of view of the company, this is also the good news.

Brauerei is a game of beer production, which turns into Beer Wars in the end game. Four of us failed to finish this in ~4 hours on Saturday. Initially, it is game of resource allocation with a "Beer of the Year" subplot. You use field agents to pursuade beer outlets to sell your beer. Tailoring your brew to the public taste, or vice versa, gives you an advantage in targeting new outlets to carry your product. One year saw "Cheep/Medium/Expensive Alcohol Free Bock" carry the day. You can get further modifiers to your sales attempts by using lots of Field Agents and from a track record of successful sales.

There is a hierarchy of beer outlets, from the lowly kiosks, that are most cost effective, through pubs and supermarkets, to the national distribution networks. National distribution is the hardest to achieve, and brings in no revenue, but is required to win. The danger is that eliminating the lower end outlets cuts off everything upstream. In our game, once all the kiosks had been captured, I was the first to test the "nuclear strike" tactic of taking over every kiosk owned by the leader, who is not allowed to attempt take overs himself. In one turn his income went to zero, and I surged into the lead, belatedly realising that I had set myself up for the same treatment next turn. It is not quite the case that the players take it in turns to be stuffed, but the game definitely becomes unstable in the end game. There are a number of ways of defending your beer distribution system, but we hypothesised that the best way to win was to accumulate a cash surplus, build up popularity and then strike for the win when you have won the Beer of the Year. I am undecided as to whether this game is worth the time and effort expended in playing it. We certainly hadn't cracked it.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell