Essen Rumors '97

Essen Spiel, perhaps the largest games event in the world will be taking place October 23 through 26 in Essen, Germany. Here's the early scuttle on new games and other goings on, much of it derived from KMW's Spielplatz, an excellent and much recommended German language Web site.

Hans im Glück have three releases for the professional gamer this year!

Die Macher, 3-5 players, 4+ hours, 80 DM ($50)

Die Macher (The Fixers) is a game of German elections which recreates the entire process from regional elections all the way to the General Election which determines who will rule in Bonn. Die Macher is a Karl-Heinz Schmiel design and was first released by his Moskito Spiel ten years ago. Since its release Die Macher has gone on to become something of a cult classic that has fetched prices as high as $200 at auction. Hans im Glück has teamed up with Moskito to bring us this new edition with all new art, components, and a much clarified rule set for 80DM (c. $50).

Euphrat & Tigris, 2-4 players, 90 minutes, 80 DM ($50)

Euphrat & Tigris (Tigris & Euphrates - as in the rivers) is a much anticipated game by Reiner Knizia. The setting is ancient Mesopotamia and the birth of civilization (at least the Western variety). Each player tries to ensure that their culture will be the one to survive to write the history books. They each have four figures to help them: a king, a priest, a trader, and a farmer. Each player's aim is to develop their small initial colony into a large, powerful kingdom. But the amount of fertile land is limited, so growth is only possible by expanding into neighbouring kingdoms. The way to win is by balancing your growth, developing all four aspects of your civilisation equally. Early reports of this game raved about it. Many of those early reports also conflicted as Reiner honed and reworked the game down from a sprawling mega-game that took several hours to play to something more befitting of a man who swears he'll never play a game that takes more than an hour and a half to play. What are we left with? Hopefully, the good bits! To top things off, Tigris & Euphrates features art by Doris Matthäus!

Grossinquisitor und Kolonien, 2-5 players, 90 minutes, 25 DM ($17)

El Grande jumps on the seafaring bandwagon with Grossinquisitor und Kolonien (Grand Inquisitor and Colonies), a new expansion by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich which also features art by Doris Matthäus.

In this expansion, players vie for control of the Grand Inquisitor and the mercenaries he controls. There are also four new mini-boards representing colonies which are placed around the original board. A ship sails back and forth between Spain and the colonies bringing gold and victory points. Players can score even more points by being appointed ambassador to France or Governor of one of the colonies.

Wags in the know who paid full price for El Grande way back before it won the Spiel des Jahres should also bring along the castle from that edition. Hans im Glück will have special giveaways for anyone who turns in one of the original castles!

Abacus Spiel also has three releases this year.

Kismet, 3-8 players, 20 minutes, 10 DM ($6)

Kismet (Fate) is a dice and card game designed by Wolfgang Panning. One player rolls three dice and all the players try to dispose of their cards using the numbers rolled. If none of your cards match the dice, that's fate - and the player to your left gets to toss a card off for free (I think - I'm shakey on this point). First player to dispose of all their cards ends the round. All other players score negative points for the cards still in their hands. Least negative score after a fixed number of rounds wins the game.

Dream Team is a hockey card game that was knocking around at Hexagames several years ago. Everyone that played it said it was great. That's about all I know, though.

Canyon is a new edition of the 1960s game Bid + Bluff from 3M games.

Amigo will have an expansion for Bohnanza, a new edition of an old favorite, and a new game for kids.

Bohnanza Erweiterungsset für Feinschmecker, 3-5 players, 45 minutes, 5 DM ($3)

The Bohnanza Erweiterungsset für Feinschmecker (Beananza Expansion for Gourmets) features 50 new cards featuring all new beans such as coffee beans and cocoa beans! Don't forget that you'll need the basic Bohnanza set to play. Bohnanza is a card game of bean growing and trading that features some interesting and original mechanisms. Cards must be played in the order they are dealt or drawn so players can be forced to play unwanted cards unless they can manage to trade them away to other players. Good fun, quick, easy to learn.

PowerPlay, 2-10 players, 45 minutes, ? DM

PowerPlay is a new edition of the game formerly known as Phantoms of the Ice and Slapshot. Great card game with a hockey theme. Each player fields a team of hockey players. The challenge is keeping your good players as you work your way through a tournemant with all the other teams in the league. If you haven't experienced this one in one of its previous incarnations, grab this one and have a go.

Fischers Fritz is the new kids game but I'm afraid I don't know anything about it but its name.

Amigo is now promising to release ElfenLands, the much anticipated new version of ElfenRoads, at Nuremberg in March. Don't hold your ElfenBreaths yet, kids; Airlines 2 has been promised for years and years (though I can't recall if that was Abacus or Amigo making those promises).

Pegasus, a new-to-me company, is releasing a new edition of Kings & Things, the Tom Wham game with more bits than you can shake a stick at.

Fata Morgana will have no new games for Essen. However, they will release two new card games early in the new year: Cosmic Eidex and Anno Domini.

Gamewright, an American company, will be releasing German versions of several of their fine games at Essen this year. I particularly recommend their Rat-a-Tat Cat for families.

Kosmos has two new offerings with a third in the wings.

Halunken und Spelunken, 2-4 players, 20 minutes, 40 DM ($32)

Halunken und Spelunken (Scoundrels and Dives) is new game by Alex Randolph that combines elements of Heimlich & Co. with Top Secret. Players move scoundrels from dive to dive around a circular board. Along the way they pick up point cards which can either be collected or used to move another scoundrel later in the game. Just to mix things up Black Jack is running around stealing scoundrel cards from the lesser rogues. A light, family game that sounds good as an evening opener.

Caesar & Kleopatra (Caesar & Cleopatra) is a two player card game by Wolfgang Lüdtke.

Städte & Ritter (Cities and Knights), the new expansion for Die Siedler/Setters, is delayed until Nuremberg, as well. It looks designed to please Mike "I won't like it" Siggins since it improves both control and the depth of the game by adding city development and hostile armies. The wargame aspect of this expansion is an unfortunate turn of events for German gaming.

Daggit makes its debut at Essen.

Quartier Latin, 4-6 players, ? minutes, 16 DM ($10)

Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) is a new game by two new game designers, Birgit Stolte und Dagmar Wolsing, published by Daggit, a new company. Two teams of players compete to open the trendiest new bars and bistros in the fashionable Latin Quarter. Competition is extreme - threats are made, bombs are thrown, and capitalism thrives. Each team's latest enterprise is a closely guarded secret - will it be a fancy cocktail bar with umbrellas in the drinks or will it be a bistro with servings so small that each main course comes with complimentary magnifying glass? This one sounds fun and you can't beat the price. If you have trouble finding it, you can order direct from Daggit. Doris & Frank will also be selling copies at their stand at Essen.

Doris & Frank have a new release and an update to last year's game.

Ursuppe, 3-4 players, two hours, 70 DM

Ursuppe (Primal Soup) marks the second attempt at a big game (long playing time, many materials) for Frank Nestel and Doris Matthäus. Primordial micro-critters eat, grow, and die. Evolution grants the survivors new abilities along the way. It looked like good fun at Alan R. Moon's Gathering of Friends last Spring but, unfortunately, I never got to have a go. You can bet I'll correct that soon as I can!

Pico 2, 2 players, 10 minutes tops, 4 DM

Pico was Doris & Frank's mini-release from last Essen that allowed them to concentrate on the re-launch of Mü after it was nominated for Spiel des Jahres. Pico is micro-cardgame that plays quickly and is surprisingly interesting given its simplicity. Frank has tweaked some of the card values to produce an even tighter game of bluff and complete knowledge (ie both players know the state of the world at all times). One of my friends carries a Pico deck in his pocket all the time and uses it to while away the odd spaces in his day. If you haven't checked it out, you should!

db-Spiele has two new releases in the wake of the nomination of Showmanager, one of their previous releases which was picked up and re-released by Queen Games, for Spiel des Jahres. Presumably these will still be sold out of the traditional backpack...

Texas, 2-4 players, ? minutes, ? DM

Ranchers and farmers struggle against one another on the arid prairies of my homeland.

Iron Horse, ? players, ? minutes, ? DM

Dirk and Barbara take their best shot at a train game. Each player takes the role of a rail company out to lay the best lines and win the most passengers. Nothing new to the theme but I'll leave it to the experts in train gaming to pass judgement on the mechanisms involved.

Bambus Spieleverlag, perhaps best known for Flaschenteufel, an interesting little card game, have two new releases this year.

Arabana-Ikibiti, 2 players, 90 minutes, ? DM

In Arabana-Ikibiti (the names of two of the islands in the game) the players attempt to control the islands in an archipelego by controlling the bridges that give access to those islands. Players score points by controlling islands. A player controls an island when they control a simple majority of the bridges that can reach it. Arabana-Ikibiti looks like an interesting, head-to-head game of resource control. There will be some randomness since the placement of bridges is controlled by cards drawn from a central deck (no tuning or collecting). And Bambus has progressively included the seafaring variation in the original edition! Check out the English rules elsewhere on this Cabinet.

Twilight, 2-4 players, ? minutes, ? DM

A card game about the conflict between the cult of the Sun and the cult of the Moon. Moonies can't play Sun cards and Sunnies can't play Moon cards. Each cult wants to accumulate the most souls before the end of the game. The exact mechanisms at play are a mystery but may prove interesting.

Lords of Creation, 2-5 players, 2-3 hours, price unknown

Warfrog, an English game company lead by Martin Wallace, are re-releasing their very good Lords of Creation. This is a gamer's game that revolves around the creation (via a polymorphic board composed of various types of terrain), population (with humans of various cultural persuasion ranging from the nomadic to the sedate), and domination (normally by roaming Mongol hordes) of a new world. The original edition was a strictly DTP affair which was followed by a boxed set with sturdier components. I'm eager to see this edition and anyone who missed out on the first two should seek this one out before they are all gone.

It looks like a good time will be had by all.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell