Report by Mike Siggins
The two year cycle seems to be holding up. Spiel '93 was a generally positive show despite the drastic increase in stand prices and the consequent slight reduction in exhibitors all this amid rumours that Spiel almost didn't get off the ground due to some unpaid bills, which I am sure are unfounded. In the end, with stands larger and better laid out, there were no major absentees. The drop off came among the smaller stands as I had expected, though there were a number of new companies and a proportion of fillers everlasting biros, African ethnic art, Rollamatics and so on to fill the vacuum. Whether they will all be there next year is debatable for reasons explained below.
The main theme for the show was definitely recession, with a capital R. Numbers attending were noticeably down, sales were disappointing for many companies and carrier bags were few and far between. Statistical Analysis (by bored stand workers) at the peak hour on Saturday showed just 14% of people carrying purchases. In scenes that will be all too familiar to British high street shoppers, prices dropped quickly on the first day (to stabilise by Sunday) but the punters kept their hands in their pockets for all but the most irresistible bargains. Some stands reported very poor sales and some sold nothing at all (but then if you are going to sell ivory and endangered wood trinkets, I have scant sympathy). Add to this the annual compulsory passive smoking session and things could have been a little grim.
The balancing items were the exhibitors that did show, the opportunity to meet all those rather agreeable people you see just once a year, the chance to laugh more than I have for ages and the range of good games that surfaced. Despite a major exercise in zen control, I still came away with fifteen new games, though with far fewer speculative purchases than usual. There were four or five exceptional releases, half a dozen very good offerings and a handful of games, either awaiting rules or playthroughs, that would not look out of place in anyone's collection.
Having given up my partnership in Lionel Games and not being too fussed about shifting large numbers of Sumo subs, I found myself free to roam the halls, play games and chat for the entire four days. Frankly, I enjoyed it and I can't imagine doing Essen again in any other way. I must have played about a dozen games (helping rules interpretation no end) which normally involved us bagging a table and cheekily asking for an English explanation. The fact that this was often performed by a stunning fraulein (Franckh being particularly good in this respect) was a major bonus. For that reason the following report will try a new approach. Rather than saying 'Looked good, nice bits' as I usually do, having played the game I will review it if I have the room or I'll do some notes below. Hope this works for you as well as it does for me.
As ever, this doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive report but should highlight all the games and companies we are likely to be interested in, while omitting the true family games, some of the abstract stuff and anything I missed (er, obviously). My special thanks go to the Boys in the Minibus for making it a memorable weekend and especially Mike Schloth, he of Elfenroads Lake fame, who played most of these games with me and put up with the group of mad Brits for the duration. I had a great weekend and chances are I will be back next year, if perhaps for a slightly reduced time.
Abacus Aside from Ali Baba reviewed last time, Abacus had only Camp another game in the white box abstract series that has so far spawned Revolution and Quick. Flotte Krabbe was also on display but I still haven't played it. The good news for avid collectors is that all these fine games are available in a special wooden box edition. The bad news is they cost about £40 each.
Adam Spielt were representing Templum, Czech producers of the Peloton cycling game reviewed last time. This was my first chance to see their ice hockey game, Hokej '92. Most of the ice hockey nuts present cracked fairly quickly (it cost about £15 for amazing components, including stick-on jerseys in a range of team colours) but I held off when I got drift of the four hour play time, for just the one game. I will get the chance to play Mike Clifford's copy in good time and will let you know how it goes.
Adlung Spiel produced Takt Voll, a game on a subject I thought impossible: writing music. The system involves laying cards to construct a musical score with points awarded on the basis of 'good tempo'. I have no idea whether Takt Voll can carry this off as I do not have a clue about music (for me, a mystery to rank with the international date line and yachts tacking) so I am dependent on the cognoscenti to assess and review this one. Fascinating stuff and at DM10 (£4), a steal.
A.D.G. probably scored the victory in The Prominence Cup for the game being carried around under most arms. Accordingly, it generated lot of buzz. The game in question is World Cup Tournament Football which is possessed of some of the best computer graphics I have seen for a while. Some odd stories were circulating about how basic it is, but oddly all described a completely different game. It is indeed basic, and is certainly not a simulation, but in the best way it works very well and nothing should be taken for granted with this one. In fact, it works almost in spite of itself and while I might have done things a little differently, I had a great time watching the tournament results unfold while trying to steer my charges through to the final. It is already a 5+ here, which isn't bad going given the Essen competition. I can only hope this is a success for Harry Rowland and ADG in what I presume is at least partially an attempt to break into the family game market. This will no doubt be somewhat squashed by Australia's recent World Cup elimination at the hands of the Argentineans. Anyway, World Cup is quick, fun, playable by up to twelve or even more, and full of the excitement of the real thing if you like Wembley style games, get this. Review by Mike Clifford inside.
Blatz seemed to be, to all intents, the replacement for Editions Perlhuhn who suffered the factory fire earlier in the year and, presumably as a result, failed to show with any new Wittig games. Sadly, I didn't see anything to divert me from the view that Wittig designs attractive but flimsy games. Kula, Kula for instance is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful games around but the gameplay is pretty weak please let me know if you know better.
DB Spiel Now this is an unusual company. They had no stand but if you knew the right people (one Alan Moon), they would roll up with their range in a backpack and relieve you of DM150 for the four handmade games. They are Al Capone, Spekulation, Hopfen & Malz and Carat shortish games whose respective topics are gangsters, the stockmarket, beer making and a clever abstract system. A speculative purchase you might say, but these games come on the highest recommendation from the German press and British gamers who found them last year. We already have rules for all four games thanks to Denis Arnold and the designers. My intention is to arrange a bulk order which I am willing to co- ordinate and any interested parties should write to me as soon as possible. You are of course free to order direct from Barbara Weber, Mariahilfstr. 7, 52062 Aachen, Germany it is possible to buy the games separately.
Doris & Frank had nothing new, sadly, but were showing a prototype of their next project which will appear later this year or in early '94. The game is called Fugger, Welfer, Medici a trading game of the late middle ages and renaissance. In a new departure for the team, it will take between three and eight hours to play with the average around five. It looks graphically impressive, as one might expect from the talented Doris, and the subject certainly appeals but I will wait to see if these experts on short games can make the change to the big game successfully. But eight hours! Good grief. Looks like I might have to make an exception...
Eurogames caused something of a stir as the French parent turned up to sell games at full price only to find their German soon-to- be-ex-agent selling games for fluppence upstairs. The deal ended up on the Sunday with Vertigo, Droids, Zargos, Montgolfiere and Le Paresseux going for about £25 the lot. Not bad, so look out for some bargains from your local supplier at around £4-5 each at cost, these should be selling for around a tenner or slightly more, much better value than the £25 or even £30 previously being asked. Droids was reviewed a while back and is a matter of taste but is generally sound, Zargos is one of the most popular games in France (I haven't played it), Vertigo has a good reputation and I will be trying it soon while Montgolfiere is an excellent little filler that we played recently. Le Paresseux, the sloth game, is one of those low profile items I have not heard anything about it, good or bad. Your comments appreciated.
Franckh Enjoying something of a second wind, Tal der Kšnige was undoubtedly a mid-level hit. Goodness knows how many it would have sold if the price were lower cheaper components would spoil it visually, but there might be scope for an economy version here. Accordingly, the price held up pretty well for the entire show, only dropping to around £36 at the lowest point. The good news is that Franckh have redesigned the game to eliminate the slight difficulty with similar colouring on the bid chits. Still getting a lot of play around these parts you read it here first.
Athos was one of the games chosen for the Intergame tournament and I feel that is about the only environment where it would stand repeated play. The idea is to move all three of your monks to the monastery on the top of a hill. Each turn, players move their monks and lay obstructions (hexagonal boulders) in the path of their rivals, forcing them to take diversions or, worse, turn round completely and start again another way. While the rocks build up steadily into walls blocking the main routes off, the rules ensure there is always one pathway open inevitably on the other side of the mountain if my luck is typical. To ease their passage, monks may forfeit some of their movement to 'flip' a boulder tile to its clear side by headbutting the rock and splitting it. There is no rationale for this as far as I could establish, and the image of Brother ®lred blasting his way uphill, shale and skin flying, is a pleasant one. The only kicker in this otherwise predictable system is the Athos stone which, once laid, cannot be flipped they either secure a pathway or seal it off for good but you only get three. We played this four player and I found it pretty tiresome and overlong at the hour mark. Our game came down to a mad headbanging session at the top of the mountain where two of my monks and two of Mike Schloth's were waiting on each other to make the first wall breaching move so that the other could run through to victory. Not great.
I played a couple of rounds of Das Letzte Paradies before I remembered it is a Reiner Knizia game. I should have guessed, because it has the same initial feel (confused yet appealing), toughness of play and those unfolding depths present in Tutanchamun, En Garde and Modern Art. The game is a good one, well very good actually, but I refrained from buying it as it is just too expensive for what it is. At around £32-£36, typical of Franckh pricing, I felt I could afford to wait till a mail order offer surfaced or perhaps Essen next year will see a reduction. Nevertheless, I have every intention of getting it eventually. The game is essentially about bidding, land valuation and long term planning. The theme is a desert island, the last paradise of the title, which is having its jungle cut away to provide sites for villas and hotels. It is your job to assess the value of these sites to earn income (depending on their relative positions to other plots) or to prevent building, earning you a 'tree', representing a conservation point. The core bidding system is rather clever. All players make a secret bid in their hand, the highest wins the right to protect or develop the plot but he only pays the value of the second highest bid. This can be a painful system as even if you don't want to pay for a plot, you often must bid high to avoid a rival getting a bargain, with the inescapable risk that you will end up buying it yourself. Additionally, as if that weren't bad enough, there is a rubicon system at game end such that any player without minimum cash reserves is out of the reckoning. Not runner-up, or third, but simply 'Out'. The game features some complex evaluations yet remains simple, quick and reasonably involving. Production is gorgeous as one might expect and I certainly enjoyed it, much more the second time, but the price needs to drop before I crack.
Fun Connection, the big German distributor, pursued an interesting sales policy at the show. They presented themselves as Bon Prix and marked up their games at something not unadjacent to cost. Drunter & Druber could be had for £4, the same price brought most of the SalaGames by the Sunday and everything else was heavily discounted. The reason may or may not be due to their imminent collapse but it seems pretty drastic. Of the newish releases, Salagames had Marlowe, Sunset Boulevard and Teufel, Teufel. The former struck me as a game that doesn't work too well and Sunset Boulevard, with perhaps the worst artwork this year, is just so simple and boring that I doubt it will be of interest to anyone reading this. Teufel, Teufel is a game that I had played pre-Essen and I think is a duffer (surprising from Koalition's Hartmut Witt) but Mark Green and many others insist it works well with five or six. Not a redeeming factor for me I'm afraid, but you may wish to try it.
FX Schmid pursued an interesting approach to selling the newest game from Reiner Knizia Attacke. This is a small box card game but could only be found on one or two retail stands and the FX Schmid demonstrators denied its existence. An odd angle on marketing, but there you go. I brought one back and we got to play it recently. I have no doubt that this is one of his lighter games, and it certainly works well, but there didn't seem to be a lot to it I know I've said this before with virtually all of Reiner's games, but this one certainly seems to have decidedly finite tactics. The giveaway is that I will happily play it again, which sets it aside from most small box games. A short review next time. I did play In Teufels Kueche which is a nice little light game, for kids I suspect, about Devils running around with cooking pots on their heads. The system works but a clever combat resolution device steals the show. Not bad, and a good laugh once, but almost of floataway lightness it seems vaguely reminiscent of a game I played years ago but can I place it? Nope.
Harder & Schoeler had a wonderful children's chess set with the Rubbles squaring off against the Flintstones. Produced in bright plastic to the highest kitsch standards, I should think this would prove a popular Christmas present (and no rules problems, folks). I believe Just Games will be getting this one in good time for the festivities.
Hispania is the first readily available Britannia variant gamekit I have seen many have been promised, but this one actually got done. Featuring the many influential races appearing in Spain between 320BC and 1100AD, it is reputed to play in about 4-5 hours and uses the Britannia system with only a few amendments (for which we will need rules, if anyone can oblige) including an El Cid rule. Superbly produced on a laser printer, using WRG figures and professional standard graphics, it is reasonably priced at DM30 (£12). Hispania has had a good reaction from those that have already played it and I hope to get a game together soon. The kit is available from A Steding, KeplerStr.9, 37085 Gšttingen, Germany. Just to restate, I am still willing to act as a clearing house/selling point for the many Britannia variants I know are out there (Middle Earth, France, China, Fertile Crescent, Africa, Germany and so on) if anyone can supply details.
Historien Spiele was the scene of great embarrassment last year as I somehow missed out on their new release, Kolonial Afrika. Despite several letters throughout the summer, I was unable to secure one of the 100 game edition (the designer makes them as he needs them) and was therefore more than pleased to find Jean du Poel had a few left. The interesting discovery, given the reputation of these games for loopholed rules, was that the designer seemed none too sure of some game nuances himself. A few obscure questions saw him working out what should happen, which perhaps explains a lot. As they say in Life of Brian, 'He's making it all up'. I have to say the game was a little disappointing after all that but I bought it anyway with the aim of doing some work on it the theme and the basics are highly appealing; the execution a little half baked. There was nothing else new, but discussion around the show indicates that there are some Mare Mediterraneum variant rules doing the rounds which improve this slightly flawed game, notably by using two dice for ship movement if anyone has them, could you supply the details for the Rules Bank? Thanks.
Jumbo had Rheingold which proved to be the one game that eluded all of my play sessions but I have subsequently picked one up from Just Games and have played it a couple of times. The theme is capturing castles on the Rhine and is actually quite wargamey in the Stratego mould. Alan Moon voted it Best of Show and I was surprised at just how much gameplay appeared from the simple system and rules, but I will reserve judgement until I have played it a couple more times. It could be one of those that is a winner in waiting or perhaps all illusory we shall see.
Karom was represented on three or four stands, with a good range of boards, quality strikers and even the odd book. The conclusion both Mike Clifford and I came to was that you would have to spend £120+ to top the quality of the wooden boards available from Karum in the UK (address last time) and even then it was debatable. What did appeal to me, though I did resist manfully, were the water balanced stainless steel boards with perspex stones which run rather like those air hockey pucks. It would be a different game for sure, with the friction being greatly reduced, but they allow just the kind of subtle slow shot that I am aiming for with the wood and resin combination, and which no amount of sanding and polishing seems to attain. The standard of play on display around the halls was pretty high, though I didn't play anyone because they use the back shot rule which is currently beyond me and seems to be cheating somehow.
Klee had some nice looking games, mainly re-issues as usual, with the highlight being a superbly presented Bazaar as reviewed in Sumo 12. This comes with suitably sparkly fake gems and looks well worth the asking price of DM55 (about £22) if you have been looking for Bier Borse or the older versions of Bazaar.
Kuhlmann, producers of Welfen & Stauffer, have released their new game after two years work. The game is Konradin oder Interregnum and covers German history in the period 1250-1348. I am assured by the designer that it isn't Kingmaker, and the explanation bore this out, though if it is I shall be after my 100 Marks refund next year. Production is once again spectacular and captures the mediľval feel perfectly with its period graphics and heraldry. Things are moving on as they intend to supply English rules before Christmas and want to make the game available in the UK. They also sell a super little dice tower that will eliminate any worries about iffy die rolling techniques. Drop the dice over the ramparts and they come tumbling out of the portcullis having been well and truly jiggled. Yours for £4.
Laurin have, by all accounts, gone bust and have been taken over by Queen's Karom. They had three major releases, namely Dampfross, Ringgeister and Die Hanse. All three feature perhaps the best game graphics on offer anywhere, plush production, big boxes and reasonable prices coming in at around DM55-65 (£22-27). The former is an overdue re-issue of Railway Rivals featuring cracking maps of Ireland, Bavaria, Russia and Tennessee & Kentucky. David Watts (address below under Rostherne) can supply this game in the UK and it is well worth getting by the way David, I read your C&T notes every month with interest.
Die Hanse sits on my shelf, looking beautiful. It promised much, and should have worked, but in the end it has all the signs of Ein Schtinker. This one is a partly co-operative trading game based on the Hanseatic League and, as they say, looks great. The map and counters are graphical classics. The trading situation and system are interesting and the box reckons a couple of hours tops. The latter is the big problem as most of the game is spent plodding around, doing little else but sailing. As Mr Clifford observed, the game is trading, but that happens only 10% of the time. This is aggravated by half your cargo being on a ship being steered by another player the game says there should be negotiation and co-operation, but you have little leverage over the other guy short of moving him back the way he just came. If you were steering half his cargo at the same time, you could talk. As it is, he goes where he wants to and you lump it or you both suffer. The same applies to the chap on your right and he follows you around he can trade in the ports you stop in, but often can't get to the ports he needs to visit. To compound matters, the game is slow, uninspiring and about as far from its potential as I have ever seen in a game. Well, perhaps Star Fleet Missions beats it on balance. I am convinced we have rules missing somewhere along the line and will not give up on it, but let's be careful out there. Somehow, somewhere, there will be a trading game that will get it 100% right. Ostindiska in the best we've had, Merchant of Venus is great if you can handle the silly names, Mare Mediterraneum is almost there, but the ultimate is yet to be designed.
Ringgeister has a lot of positive credentials: the Lord of the Rings theme, a splendid, clever map, nice ideas and a workable autopilot system for the baddies. I have no strong feelings on the fact that the game is intended as a co-operative exercise, with each player taking control of two of the Fellowship but needing to work together to dunk the Ring into old Mount Doom, but others will dislike it, I'm sure. Basically, the nine start out in the Shire and must get across the wraith and orc populated board to do the dirty deed. Movement and combat are simple enough. When the characters stop moving, their scent drifts across Middle Earth (guided by an arrow on their space) and triggers the first available baddie, waiting patiently in line. If there are none, Gollum wakes up wherever he may be skulking. The activated piece then moves off (again dictated by their respective arrow) along one of the windy pathways which cover the entire board. These have loops, railway style points at junctions and big black blobs that act as buffers, halting movement. The paths are spiced up by sections of the board being rotatable (a la Magic Realm, or like turntables, to continue the railway analogy) and not only do the paths line up every which way, but so does the scenery impressive stuff.
The effect of all this is that every turn the baddies prowl around the board, sometimes stopping almost immediately with no effect, sometimes riding for miles and coming close to the cowering quarry, and sometimes scragging a hobbit who has strayed too far from Gandalf. If the moving baddie runs into a goodie, the biggest dobber wins and the loser is bounced off to the Shire. However, if he is carrying the ring, We Have Lost. This, in most respects, works well. Where it fails is that the system isn't that engaging and there are some irreconcilably daft elements. Essentially, it amounts to a poor game it is hard to plan anything because the paths are so tortuous and the random attacks can fall any where at any time, so you just walk, or use the secret tunnels or press on manfully, yet the atmosphere isn't there. A complete absence of map names doesn't help matters. The silly bits are that as soon as they leave the Shire, the Nine are forced to separate which rather defeats the object of a Fellowship, "Okay lads, gadget play. Everyone fan out and run like crazy." Additionally, The Ring changes hands automatically, as if by, er, magic. Frodo could be on his way up the final slope of the mountain to end the game, only to find the next card draw whisks it away to the other side of the board to a startled Sam, predictably surrounded by slavering Uruk-Hai. I think you could get round this by all standing still, but that is cheating. Not bad, not great, nice map. I didn't buy it. About DM 60-70 (£24- £28) if you do, but I would say either of the earlier ICE games (Riddle of the Ring/Fellowship of the Ring) are a better bet if you can find them.
Lionel Games had their existing range of sports games and a new release, Die Eisernen MŠnner, a race game about the triathlon which is reviewed this time by Dave Farquhar. Also exhibiting on the stand was Stephan Valkyser with his new replay game, Kšnig der Athleten (look Stephan, umlauts!) which covers the decathlon our hero Daley (Hurrah!) faces off against Jurgen Hingsen (Booo!), among many others. Looks interesting, review to follow.
Men of Iron (Die Eisernen MŠnner) occupied a fair number of game sessions this year and as my involvement was as one of the playtesters only, I feel I can comment with impartiality. The first point to make is that I have played this game over ten times and every time the game has been quick, fun and very close. It is a race game par excellence. You are never out of contention and I have seen cyclists (apparently left for dead) catch up and overtake on the run section to win. The system is incredibly well balanced (I still don't know how, but Jefferies holds the secret formula), really recreates the feel of the sport and the final sprint up the hill just has to be experienced. I also like the boats and the cars, which add the right level of interaction. Where I have a reservation, and I have told the designers this, is that the system doesn't have that elusive special ingredient to make it a stand out game. I appreciate this is a difficult thing to pin down, and I for one couldn't come up with anything constructive, but to my mind it is certainly missing in comparison with the best German games. Whatever, this doesn't make it a bad game (quite the opposite) and I recommend this one as a lightish game that consistently plays in less than an hour in fact, an ideal filler. You can buy this by mail from Lionel at 48 Maberley Rd, Upper Norwood, London SE19 2JA (advert somewhere hereabouts) or from Just Games, Westgate and Esdevium, among others.
Moskito As I said in the last Essen report, there seems to be no better yardstick of fair quality than the Moskito release. The theory holds up with Was Sticht? which is, at last, a reworking of a traditional card game that has some merit. In fact, it has so much merit that I would rate it as one of the hits at the show and one of the best card games to come along for a while. It has a lot to it and may be considered too tough and a little long by some, but I reckon it is a cracker and an absolute must for card players. Review inside.
Tom Naylor had a stunning stand displaying Fibonacci to the accompaniment of a seriously weird, but impressive, video. The stand was fully occupied every time I went by and there was a lot of interest in the new Windows computer version of the game. This neat piece of software not only replicates the gameplay but will record all the moves and, in its next version, will actually play against you. This software has clearly been written by a professional programmer familiar with Windows and the results are more than impressive. I think the software costs £10 or £15 and it is well worth it as an adjunct to the boardgame. Address last time.
Peri Many have presumably tried before, but I didn't think it possible to produce a numerical equivalent of Scrabble. I am pretty sure that Peri have achieved it in Zatre, a clever game with plenty of strategy and nuances of play that compare favourably with the Spears classic. Obviously one does not enjoy the scope of thinking of and placing words, but within its parameters this is as good as you might expect. The idea is to lay two tiles numbered between 1 and 6 each turn so as to form columns or rows totalling 10, 11 or 12. Having achieved this, you tick off the score on a Yahtzee style pad which records the number of 10,11,12 combinations achieved and the number of 'pinks' covered in the process (roughly equating to the bonus square positions in Scrabble). The result is quite clever in that you must achieve a balance of the four to win because bonus points are awarded only for each complete 'line' placing large numbers of 12s will not help as you need the other three items. Good. Almost bought it. Restrained myself somehow. DM45ish (£18).
Rostherne Games flew the flag as usual. Their new release Mine! is not in fact a game about currency trading, but the latest business game from David Watts. It represents not only a welcome return from the successful two player abstract foray but also, in my humble opinion, his best since Railway Rivals. This should be praise enough. Players buy and operate mines in an ever changing market, with supply affecting the price by way of a rather clever mechanism. As with many good games, there is a core bidding element and also plenty of tough decisions that give the lie to its one hour play length. A full review next time of this one but you may wish to acquire a copy now as the game is a limited edition the game sold out at Essen as an indication. Boxed, graphically vastly improved and a bargain at just £9 from David Watts, 102 Priory Road, Milford Haven, Dyfed SA73 2ED.
Schmidt had a couple of interesting items, and in one case not for entirely positive reasons. The big game was Spiel der Tźrme, one of the Master Designer (sic) series and selected for not only the Spiel des Jahres list and Interteam Tournament but also ranking high in the Deutscher Spiel Preis voting. Personally, I wouldn't widdle on it if it were burning but there are many who like it and I can almost understand why. The game is heavily abstract, in a very chess-like way, but even I could handle the tactics and some of the look-ahead required. The system is original, taxing and fundamentally flawed. My concern, and no one seems to want to defend it, is that with the random lay of tiles at the start, it is entirely possible for one player to have an initial deployment that will allow an immediate, uncontested win. This is definitely the case as the Interteam event had to introduce a house rule to prevent it happening. I find this remarkable, and rather pointless presumably you just start again (or put it back in the box) if this happens? The solutions, and I prefer the latter, seem to be to allow each player ten or fifteen minutes at the start to assess all the other player's positions to at least try to spot a winning pattern (you then re- jig the tile positions) or, for tournament play, to have preset, neutral boards in much the same way as duplicate bridge. Neither seems ideal, but what else are we to do with a game that clearly wasn't tested by an intellect to be reckoned with? An essentially good game ruined by a flaw of sizeable dimensions. Nice bits though.
Nizza however was far better. Based on the film To Catch a Thief and designed by Wolfgang Kramer, it involves each player trying to steal some jewels, negotiate a series of balconies, ledges and roofs by swinging from chains, climbing ladders and running, all in an effort to be first into the escape boat and away in the helicopter. All good Milk Tray stuff for sure and a highly amusing game with plenty of opportunities to throw your rivals into the harbour interaction took on a new meaning when some German oik decided to throw me off a building, despite my being last, so we spent the rest of the game throwing each other in like some sort of Three Stooges routine. The core system owes a lot to Ravensburger's Minos and uses poker dice which allow movement and combat. The really bold element is that movement around the board is unregulated no hexes, squares and minimal use of spaces. Any 'aerial' movement is measured out using real chains and ladders and the pieces end up exactly where they stop it is therefore important not to jog the board. A little slow with more than four, this is a clear buy recommendation.
Strat-O-Sphere shared a stand with Chamelequin, reviewed this issue, and provided one of the hits of the show in the shape of Elevation. Not bad for a British company. The game is an abstract one featuring a pyramid made from marbles. I played the game and enjoyed it but wasn't as impressed as many seemed it didn't have a lot to it really though, as ever, this depends on your affinity with two player abstract games. I thought there was a problem with the second player having quite an advantage, though this can be turned to positive use as a crude handicap system. It may also be overly cynical of me to say that the game sold so well because it makes an attractive ornament (more so for the gaming room) but I am sure the play value was a factor. There will be a review this time from Richard Breese, almost certainly the most experienced player of the game on the planet.
VSK, a new company to me, had Zankapfel, the game that was awarded the annual Cloaking Device prize. We all completely missed it, despite it being on a double stand, but John Lyne came to my rescue recently by lending it to me and singing its praises. The result is that we can increase the number of exceptional games at Essen by one and there is a real danger that John won't be getting his copy back. Review inside.
Walter Muller have had a succession of merely average games since their initial release, Favoriten, which I still have time for (okay, okay). This year they have hit the first division with Rette Sich Wer Kann (Every Man for Himself) which, for me, was the hit of the show. This is an excellent game, for a number of reasons, and I have played it more than any other during the last few weeks. 10+ already; a classic in the making. Review inside.
Welt der Spiel had a good range of games and were doing steady business in Backpacks & Blisters, even at £20+. The game I picked up was Tichu, a highly rated card game (by locals who have played it) from Fata Morgana which combines elements of Doppelkopf and Karriere Poker. I have recently got the rules for this from Chris Mellor (where would we be without him?) and I will let you know how it goes.
White Wind had just the one release this year, Freight Train, once again designed by Alan Moon. I played this in sub zero conditions when the stands were going up and again later that week, and have to say it is another winner. Not perhaps up to the standards set by last year's double whammy, but a game you would be advised to get hold of. Slightly reminiscent of Airlines in feel (though little else), it again cracks the short railway game genre wide open. I mean, a game about shunting, with a dozen types of truck, that actually works I for one am impressed and railway fans will love it. Full review inside. Sales were brisk, Elfenroads pushes on towards legendary status and unavailability while White Wind seem to have deservedly taken their place among the Hans im Glucks, Abacii and other gamer's favourites.
Zoch Probably fuelled by MB funds for the Bausack licence, Zoch has moved into the 90's with a card game in a colour box and professional production standards. Das Hornberger Schie§en is a very different card game, based on an unusual matrix system, complete with eponymous German folk tale backing it up. Can't wait, huh? I have the game, and the rules, and will be covering this novel system next time.
Miscellaneous I never did find Oliver Game's Pin Point, the other big British success at the show, but I have subsequently met up with the designer, Oliver Cockell, and have played the game which is rather good. Review next time. The man with the big price tags, Herr Fackler, had nothing new, presumably feeling the pinch of recession demand. Manfred Schuling had an interesting game in the press centre called the Thief of Baghdad but I never did find it can anyone assist? Ravensburger had nothing that I could see that would interest the gamer rather than kids or families and many similar companies just ran their Nuremburg releases again. Even the 'go to' company, Hans im Gluck, had nothing to offer, but then Modern Art is a formidable set of laurels on which to rest the price fell to about £20 by the Sunday by the way. Rumours indicate that they made a cool two million pounds out of Drunter & Druber. With Modern Art as the icing, this is a company on the up.
To summarise, and generalise bearing in mind that I go only to Essen, I would say that new releases were down in number but the standard was higher on average. The Deutscher Spiel Preis (voted on by gamers rather than journalists as in the Spiel des Jahres) was won by Modern Art, followed by Tutanchamun, Vernissage, Bluff, Acquire, Rheingold, Spiel der Tźrme, Sticheln, Empire (HotW) and Pfusch. Now that's more like it. First and second for that nice Mr Knizia you'll note; he'll go far that lad. And that is it for another year. I hope to be back in '94 and it remains to be seen if Essen retains the atmosphere and quality of my last four visits. I doubt it will disappear in the short term, but I have a nagging suspicion that Essen will be undergoing some changes, perhaps for the worst. Whatever Merz is aiming for, personally I don't want just another Nuremburg or Earls Court.
On to the 24 Exits from Mulheim.
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