Essen Spiel is the pinnacle of the board game community’s calendar – and it is nearly upon us! This international trade fair boasts over 1,000 exhibitors from across the globe. Each one hoping to promote their wares to over 190,000 visitors in just four days. With all this competition vying for your attention it is somewhat daunting for the visitor and difficult for a game to stand out from the crowd.
However, for you, I have trawled through the early releases and games scheduled for debuts at Essen Spiel 2019. In an attempt to stay away from the obvious headline games, I have looked for potentially interesting games that appear to have captured the imaginations of some others, but arguably aren't grabbing the headlines... yet!
From the Essen Spiel 2019 international exhibition to the first ever International Trade Exhibition. The Great Exhibition was proceeded by Industrial Fairs in France, but the 1851 exhibition was the first of a series of World Fairs popular in the age of the Industrial revolution. Victorian England could draw from its Empire to showcase the products of the world in a spectacular way. The grand offering was housed in the bespoke-built Crystal Palace.
Why am I writing about a fair that happened over 150 years ago? Well, Feuerland Games is releasing the 2-5 player game Crystal Palace at Essen Spiel this year. In gameplay terms it looks to be an interesting worker/dice placement game, rich in this quirky theme. Each player takes on the role of a nation competing for patents, inventions and the support of influential people to succeed.
From what I have seen so far, the game comes with a host of playing boards to illustrate the various different elements of the game. In addition to asymmetric player boards and a ton of markers, dice and tokens to fill the box. The dice placement mechanic looks unusual, with players determining the stats of their dice at the beginning of each round. Presumably this has an impact on what you can do in future rounds. I’m certainly excited to see, and find out more!
On the Origin of Species
Keeping with a Victorian theme temporarily, On The Origin Of Species grabbed my attention. A 2-4 player game based on Charles Darwin’s journey on the Beagle. This game takes you on a boat trip of discovery and research through the Galapagos Islands, finishing at New Zealand. Thematically, this game looks immersive and the artwork by Amelia Sales will not disappoint from the snippets I have seen.
In the game, players have two options on their turn. They can research species, gaining knowledge of air, land or water habitats; or use this gleaned information to place new species tiles on the board. The latter gaining victory points and various cards. This also moves the Beagle onward on its journey.
This hand management and tile placement game is won by players scoring their evolution points in conjunction with their final goal card. The player with the most points wins. On the Origin of Species has a small publisher, Mont Tàber, and distribution has been limited to date. I have a feeling people will be clambering for this game at Essen Spiel 2019 and it looks like it might have the potential of being snapped up by a bigger publisher. We will see!
So, You’ve Been Eaten
From the past to the distant future. I must confess I have seen very little about this game other than the stunning artwork on the box. Kwanchai Moriya artistry leapt off the screen when browsing the games at Essen Spiel 2019. The title So, You've Been Eaten is pretty epic and elaborates on the story line that as a space miner the only way to harvest valuable crystals is to enter the mouth of a giant space beast in which they grow.
This is an asymmetrical game where you are either the Miner or the Beast. The Beast is trying to digest the miner and the Miner is trying to farm eight crystals. The other option is that the Miner passes through the entire digestive system and comes out of a different hole to the one he entered. Without going into detail, we will call this hole number two! In this latter instance, the player with the most points wins, although the Miner may need counselling afterwards!
So You’ve Been Eaten is designed by Scott Almes of Tiny Epic games fame. His particularly peculiar unique selling point of this game is that it boast 0-2 players! Yes that’s right apparently the game can play itself. I assume it may need help getting itself out the box though as there must currently be a limit on the artificial intelligence of a board game. It’s unique enough to get me excited.
Save the Meeples
This game has caught my eye as the premise of the game intrigues me. The back story is that the eternal Meeple War has ended and the meeples are free and happy in their secret meeple land. Sadly, their Utopian existence is under threat as the humans have discovered their world and are enslaving the meeples to work in their board games. Brilliant huh?
So, is it flight or fight time? That is determined by the 2-4 players who will be busy using trains to travel to different places. This will enable players to enrol new meeples, manage resources, and even build a rocket to find a brave new world – or fight the gigantic human enemy. Save the Meeples was designed by Florian Sirleix with what looks set to be some great artwork from Anne Heidsieck.
This game is self-described as a worker placement game in which placement is disconnected from action. Honestly, I’m none the wiser! The differing winning conditions and the awesome narrative are things that I will look forward to though.
In the native tongue, Faultier allows players to be a sloth on holiday! I shouldn’t need to write any more than that because that should be awesome enough to grab your attention! However, I feel compelled to tell you more about Fast Sloths. You can see a sloth's smiling happy face on the box, that makes me happy. But more about the actual game... with a playing time of 45 minutes you can probably tell your sloth gets help moving around. This help is provided by a variety of other animals, also on holiday, who are more than happy to oblige in moving you around the board. This allows you to collect tasty leaves to munch on whilst cadging a lift.
Fast Sloths was designed by Friedmann Fiese of Power Grid fame. It boasts a giant game board that can be configured in different combinations. In essence, it is a racing game that involves some hand management. Each animal taxi allows you to move in different ways. Although competitive, the designer has explicitly avoided any ‘take that’ mechanisms, unless snatching another player’s animal to use yourself counts. It is apparently free from randomness with each game having new challenges to master. Anyway, regardless of all this, the game had me excited at the word 'sloths'.
Finally, I hope you have fun if you are lucky enough to get to Essen Spiel 2019 – enjoy!