Numbers of visitors appeared to me to be slightly up on last year, although I wasn't there for the crucial weekend days. The Messe had certainly expanded yet again, with half of a previously closed-off hall now devoted to fantasy games. My first port of call, the second hand market had also expanded, and prices seemed far more realistic this year, I saw little of last year's pattern, where some games were priced higher on the second hand stalls than they cost new in the main hall. Last year I didn't buy any second hand games at all, this year I picked up an original Organized Crime and a Hartland Trefoil Civilization for 40 marks each and was well satisfied. One section which has expanded greatly over the last year is the computer games stalls, up from two or three last year to ten or twelve, could this be a pointer to the future? I hope not. On the other hand the people selling African artwork and the like were conspicuous by their absence.
But what were the new games I hear you cry. Well, after the best crop of new releases from Nuremburg that I can remember, it is perhaps not surprising that the choice wasn't as good as last year. The best new game in my opinion is ``Falsche Fuffziger'' (Funny FFifties, (sic.)), which is a very entertaining game about counterfeit money. I'm a big fan of auction games anyway, but this was getting good marks from almost everyone who saw it. My next best was ``Das Regeln Wir Schon'' (We've got a rule for that) from Moskito Games, a game where you try to collect chips and convert them into points by acting on a constantly changing set of rules. I'll review this in more depth elsewhere.
Games which, while good, didn't grab me in the same way were Alan Moon's two new offerings; Mush, a game of Husky racing which didn't quite gell for me and Phantoms of the Ice, a fun late-evening short game of Ice Hockey management. VSK's new game is ``The Magic Hexagon'', on which wizards push other wizards and their spells around the board in an effort to burn the opponent's spells before they get yours. Think of a less strategic but better looking Abalone with a touch of Memory.
Adam Spielt, the mail order games company had their own game on sale, Spritfresser, (Gas guzzler). This is a motor racing game, which seems to have borrowed a feature from virtually any racing game you can think of, including, according to Mike Clifford, Grand Prix Manager. It also includes two novel ideas of it's own, firstly fuel consumption, governed by changes in speed, that makes pit stops an essential part of the full 5-lap game, and secondly yellow strips around the outside of the track where you may ignore all cornering restrictions. Unfortunately, any one strip only runs around perhaps an eighth of the track at longest, and returning to the main track means slowing right down into first gear, destroying the advantage that you have gained. The game is very nice, but the presentation is decidedly on the amateur side, and at a price of 50 marks I decided to give it a miss.
Two games which I had already seen, but which were new to most were Fugger Welser Medici from Frank and Doris and Waldmeister from Hans im Glück. Both are superb productions, are highly themed, and contain interesting games mechanisms. For me, both narrowly fail but Waldmeister in particular seemed to be getting a lot of play on the public tables so I may be out of step. A company which seemed to be doing better business this year than normal was Fanfor, where Mike Siggins' old friend Valentin Herrmann a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler has modified last year's ``Geweite Steine'' into ``Neues Land'' (New World), a game of sea voyages and conquest. It looked far better than the very black and white Geweite Steine, and seemed to be attracting far more interest. Valentin also showed an interesting marketing idea where he took last year's ABI '94, a card game about passing your ABI, the final high school exams in Germany, put a new box around it, and sold it as ABI '95, hoping to catch this year's crop of school leavers.
And there were more. Mayfair games had mock ups to show of 1870, and 1856, but no games to sell which must have cost them a few sales, available in 4-5 weeks we are told. The very pretty Ringgeister from last year was supplemented by another equally well-produced Tolkien game ``Hobbits'' which was designed by Jean Vanaise of Flying Turtle. On the games author tables, hidden amongst myriads of two-player abstract games, was a very professionally made game about brewing, Hopfen und Malz, not the game of the same name from Dirk Henn. It turned out to be a publicity game for the German Brewing Federation, produced by Ravensburger. The game itself wasn't anything very special but it won't be available commercially and so might become a collector's item. The said Dirk Henn also had a new game, ``Beziehungs Kiste'', but that sold out so fast that I never got to look at it. Hexagames had a very low key rerelease of Long/Short, an old Commodity Trading game while various other of the smaller companies hadn't anything new at all, including Rostherne Games, Harry Rowland's Australian Design Group, Klaus Zoch and, sadly, Walter Müller's Games Workshop, normally a must buy for me.
Finally the stinkers: both from a new company to me, eg Games. Leonardo looked nice, a mediaeval town with a circular track running through it but as I sat down and read through the rules it started to seem vaguely familiar. Players landing on a space may buy it at the given price or auction it, any other player landing on the space must pay the owner, if one player owns all three sites in a colour then the other player pays double, players passing Go collect 200 pounds, sorry 100 florins. There were differences from Monopoly, but they were slight. In the same way, Conquest from the same firm bore a more than passing resemblance to Risk, but we got no further than the tanks being loaded onto submarines and the super torpedoes that could be fired from the North Atlantic and hit ships in the South Pacific before giving up.
And another Essen was over, far too soon. I met old friends, usually far too briefly, I made new friends, Ken Tidwell and his wife, Alan How, and Merfyn Lewis, whose wide eyed enthusiasm at his first sight of the Essen Spielmesse made me wonder if I'm getting too old and cynical about the whole thing. And I saw a lot of new games, some good, some terrible, and one or two wonderful ones that once again prove that Essen is the best games show in the world and that next year I will set off Essen-wards, full of optimism and excitement as to what I will find.