Article by Emanuel Soeding (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For all of you who couldn't come to Essen, I'll just write some brief words on the new games I saw. I'm sure reviews will follow soon, as soon as some of the games are played more than once!
Here we go, sorted by publishers:
Downtown - a game of investment and negotiation, which reminded very much of Metropolis at first glance, but is totally different! Its more a game of voting, maybe similar to Saludos Amigos (GoldSieber). You buy parts of areas where different buildings are going to be built. The votes are called to decide what kind of building is going to be there: housing, commercials or industry. The value of your property is dependant on the type and number of neighboring areas. Value is low for housing areas if they neighbor an industrial zone, for commercials if they neighbor less than two housing areas, and industrial zones are decreased if they don't have a commercial neighboring them. Thats what you base your vote on.
I played Downtown with 6 players, and this turned out to be a quite destructive game. Since players couldn't find enough allies to support a vote for the areas they had invested in, it was much easier to find allies for votes against somebody. This resulted in everybody thinking in a destructive way, rather than how to make the own property more valuable. However, thats probably a problem of a six player game. The influence on the votes is surely much better in 3 or 4 player game - I'll definitely have to try this.
XXL - this one seems to be a simple card laying game. It didn't attract me too much so I didn't try it but it might be a good game. The name comes from the oversized cards, so if thats everything the game offers I wont be buying it. I'll be waiting for some more precise information on the game system.
Up and Down - nice little cardgame. As usual the goal is to finish the game with the highest score. The game is finished by cancelling certain cards on the table. As soon as the last card is cancelled, the game is over and the score is summed up. The point is, that the highest score is earned, by having an exact totel of zero on the hand (with at least two cards). So the decision to make is, weather to go for a good sum or for zero. I played it and found it to be nice. Lets see if it'll stay after a few more games.
Shit - another little card laying game by the maker of Speed. It seemed to be a nice game, so I bought it, but its not going to be a very great hit, either...
Schwarzmarkt - highly recommended little business cardgame by S. Dorra. Nice and easy mechanism on price raising and selling of products (butter, shugar coffee, potatoes, flour) on a post war black market. Will be available in November or December.
DTM Nuerburgring - new set like DTM Hockenheimring, with the new 1996 cars and a Nuerburgring course. As the previous one - nice but expensive (also because most people will have to buy a larger gaming table, because the board has extraordinary dimensions...).
Serenissima - a very interesting game on war and trading in the ancient mediterranean area, which reminded me a bit of Minos. Players buy galleys for delivering goods to other players or their own harbors. Galleys need people to row, which represent their strength and speed, but many men will not leave space for goods. Thus, you can fill a galley with goods and a few rowing people to make it a slow heavy freighter, or a lot of people to ready it for capturing other ships, or any combination in between. The game is made with nice little plastic ships, and attracted a lot of people so I'm sure we will soon hear more of it.
Geheimnis auf dem Nil - this is a sort of detective game about a secret on the Nile. I played it, but the system is strange and hard to describe so I'll skip the details here. Altogether it was mainly a game of bluff and strategy. The first game was really nice, but I do really have to play it again, and wait for some other reviews. The main intersting thing is that you are able to change hints other players have already seen to confuse them.
Brauerei (Brewery) - buisiness game about brewing beer. Looked similar to Schoko & Co with kind of secret bidding and the option to hire and fire personnel. But I'm usually careful with Fanfor games, since the systems in other games such as Waldesfrust, Neues Land and Geweihte Steine, are usually nice but could have been tested more carefully to reveal their full potential.
X Pasch - a little game with dice and cards about international investing in international currencies. Looked nice - I bought it.
PowWow - tactical game about Indians dancing around a fire. Nice components, as usual, but I'll wait for a review before buying it.
Sabbotage - interesting card laying game by Robert Abbott. Players lay pipe systems on their own player boards while trying to destroy the opponents system.
Nichts für Ungut - another cardgame. Players lay out sets of cards, like two, three or four of same kind, straights of two, three, or four cards and so on. As you lay out your set, you put a marker onto the board in the respective row for your set. Markers already in there are pushed further to the edge. Since each row can only hold 3 markers, as soon as the fourth is inserted, the first one drops off the edge. Altogether, a rather unpredictable game, which I can't recommed if you're sober...
Fireside Football - great little football cardgame, similar to the old PBM game, United. Players play games in a system slightly similar to Slapshot/Phantoms of the Ice, and invest in new players to build up a strong team. Highly recommended!
Shaolin (Prototype) - another little cardgame, which is supposed to be released in December. I have no idea what its about.
Dream Team (Prototype) - seemed to be something like a sports game, with teams fighting each other. It'll also be released in December, and there will be expansion teams, so it looked promising, though I have no idea what kind of sports this is representing, since I saw it about ten minutes before I left the show... [Ken: for shame! With a name like Dream Team, it MUST be basketball!]
Die Siedler Kartenspiel - the long awaited one... Basically, a game for people who like Die Siedler, but always had to play it with two players since there weren't more. In fact, its something like a combination between Siedler and a CCG. Each player builds his own island with large squared cards, representing either villages, roads, towns, production cards (with numbers) and several special cards like Knights, Monasterys, Universities, Markets and much more (which demand the release of more special cards, which made me compare it to a CCG). The game roughly uses the Die Siedler system for production and trade, but the number of goods you own is public.
To give a quick statement: I really liked the game, but - much more than Die Siedler - its dice driven. Since there's nobody to help you to catch the leader, this often is a nearly impossible task, and I have yet to find out what trading is good for (as in a two player game of Die Siedler). As I said in the beginning, its rather the 2-player expansion of Die Siedler, since its much better than the original game played with two. Another important point for the English speaking folks is that every special card contains a lot of German text which is important (imagine playing MtG with a German deck). Push Mayfair to print an English version of this one and save yourself a lot of pain...
Sing Sing - little game of memorizing. I haven't tried it, but it looked like something for kids.
Aeronautika - haven't tried this eiter. It a game with lots of little wooden WW I airplanes. However, it didn't seem to be a wargame. Too expensive for me to consider buying it.
Goblin Kings and Medevial Empires - I was really surprised that Warfrog showed two new games in Essen this year. I took a look at them, but didn't go into much detail so these two are for some English speaking people to describe.
Bamboleo - imagine something like Bausack (Bandu) on a board, that is mounted on a sphere. Whenever you remove a tile, the board swings to the other side. I allready had a lot of fun with this one, and it's really hard to master. Whoever liked Bandu has to get this one as well.
Aztec - a very nicely designed tactical 3D-game with soma like, but larger, wooden tiles.
??? (homemade games):
TransSib - a game about mafia gangs, selling goods during a journey on the Transsiberian Railway. If your mobsters challenge each other they use some kind of secret bidding system with money similar to the one used in Kuhhandel (Wrott & Swindlers). Looked interesting, but was quite expensive.
Breaking Away - another bicycle-race game. I haven't tried it yet, but several people were very enthusiastic about this one.
That was all I remember. I surely missed a lot, but thats no wonder since the total volume of the fair expanded even more compared to last year.
Overall I must say - no real great games this year. I bought only very few of the brand new ones. That was mainly because I wasn't sure if the ones I tried were really good. Most of them were so so. My only recommendation is Schwarzmarkt which is, unfortunately, not yet available.
On the other hand, I bought a lot of stuff on sale. Mainly US and English games which were sold out. On the fleamarket nearly everything was available. I even saw the Jati which was announced in r.g.b.m a few weeks ago (rumors said it was mint before the show, but fell down during the show and suffered severe scratches, haha). People are still bidding on this item. However, part of the collectors scene is slowly drifting into price regions which are far from anything realistic. On the other hand, old US games are getting cheaper here slowly, due to some people importing lots of them. I saw at least 4 copies of Le Mans (AH), several Dispatcher, B&O C&O, U-Boat, Verdict, lots of stuff that has never appeared before. The prices were horrible but I doubt anybody bought them, so I expect the prices to drop fast :-) Yes, the collectors market was really bizarre - I had great fun :-)
Thats it from here - Ciao, Manu
P.S. White Wind sold their games cheap as expected. ASS was present as usual and, at least to me, it didn't seem as if they were about to give up.
The Game Cabinet - email@example.com - Ken Tidwell