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Top 10 Essen Hot Picks 2023

essen hotlist - 3 ring circus

Every year, before the Essen Spiel convention bursts into life, many of the publishers and 1 there will list the games they are planning to debut or bring along to the convention for people to buy. And because people love a list and getting hyped about future purchases, we as gamers can rank the games we are most excited about. I’m going to be doing different lists in this mini-series. The first, which is this one, is looking at what games the people are most interested in. The next list will be my personal top five games and expansions I’m excited for. If games would be on both lists, they’re here first. There is a little cheating here, because two of the top 10 are expansions to the number 1 game, so if it’s all the same to you, I’ll look at 11 and 12 as well. And a final disclaimer, this is the list as of the time of writing, which did have the last two games swap places during the writing.

10. 3 Ring Circus

The first of two Devir games on this list has the circus coming to town. In 3 Ring Circus, players take on the role of a circus director who tours the United States at the end of the 19th century. Your objective is to hire artists and offer performances in various towns and cities with the intention of gaining fame. In towns, features are easy to set up and give you starting resources to upgrade your cast; small cities are somewhat more demanding, but they allow you to come into contact with better artists; audiences in big cities are even more demanding and want to see very specific numbers, but performing there brings you much more fame! All the while, PT Barnum’s circus is exploring the country, triggering scoring in regions.
The theming of this area majority, hand management and point to point movement game is very interesting, though I would imagine that some of the less savoury elements of that time have been removed. Devir have certainly been doing very well recently with their games, and I’m excited to see how this game plays.

9. Cascadia: Landmarks

This is the first that will be showing up on my list, Cascadia Landmarks, the highly anticipated expansion to 2022’s Spiel Des Jahres winner, Cascadia. In this expansion, you can build on the sprawling habitats from the original game, and get to add natural landmarks to give even greater end game scoring bonuses. Even without the Landmarks module, there is even more to add into your base game, with more unique scoring cards and habitat tiles you can shuffle into the base game, as well as enough components to increase the player count up to 6!
I have delighted in my plays of Cascadia, just enjoying the calm puzzle, even playing solo. Even more animal scoring opportunities is fantastic, because I love a “more” expansion, and having more to mix in is exactly what fans of Cascadia will have been clamouring for.

From the Moon

8. From The Moon

La Boîte de Jeu brings us From the Moon, a game where players are representatives of factions trying to complete space missions departing from our Moon in order to help mankind survive elsewhere in the Galaxy. Indeed, the fate of the Earth is sealed and time is running out!

The plan is to launch three survival missions before all life on Earth ends. To do that, each faction will contribute by building parts of the ships and build their own Lunar base to store the necessary resources. Johannes Goupy and Gilles Lasfargues kickstarted their design back in March and it is finally coming to retail, with a pre-order at Essen. For those fans of asymmetric faction abilities and gameplay which deviates from the traditional round setup, this would be one to keep an eye on.

Unconscious Mind

7. Unconscious Mind

Sigmund Freud was an interesting gentleman. He established the theory of psychoanalysis back in the early 1900’s and as he developed this theory, he invited a group of followers to meet every Wednesday in his home to discuss the meaning of dreams. Players will step into the role of one of these followers, the Wednesday Psychological Society, aiming to master therapeutic techniques and delve into the dreams of your clients. The gameplay blends worker placement, engine building, action programming, and multiple rondels to create wonderful cascading chains of actions and giving your clients the opportunity to remove grief layers, shown by transparent card layers, and eventually unlocking powerful ongoing abilities.

I love a bit of history and psychological theory and this game seems to blend both together in a flurry of mechanisms and crunchy decisions. I can’t wait to give this one a go.

Kutna Hora

6. Kutná Hora: The City Of Silver

There’s always a buzz around the next big Czech Games Edition games, and CGE have been building up to this one. Kutná Hora: The City of Silver is a historical city-building Eurogame for 2-4 players that features a real-life supply and demand experience in which every action you take has an impact on the game's dynamic economic systems.

In each round, players take turns selecting actions from a hand of double-sided cards to engage strategic plans like mining, purchasing plots of land on which to build, gaining permits, raising buildings for their affiliated guilds, gaining profit from their production, and of course working towards the construction of Saint Barbara's Cathedral.

One of the main things I have seen about this game on social media is the transition from plastic to something called RE-Wood, an ecofriendly recycled wood residue mixture that can be sculpted and formed like plastic to give the detail you need. This will be very interesting for the future of our hobby, and it’s great that CGE are giving it a debut at Essen.


5. Nucleum

Board&Dice have built up quite a solid reputation recently for producing intense heavy weight games, which hits such as Teotihuacan, Tiletum and Terracotta Army, as well as other games that do not start with T. Simone Luciani and Dávid Turczi also been building a name for themselves with heavier titles and bring us this new economic, industrial game of Nucleum. In Nucleum, players take role of industrialists trying to succeed during the economic and technological boom of 19th-century Saxony, fuelled by the invention and spread of the Nucleum (a nuclear reactor).

Players earn victory points by developing their networks, building and powering urban buildings, securing contracts, and meeting milestones (randomized endgame goals). Each player also gets unique asymmetric technologies, giving them special powers when unlocked. This is one of the heavier games on this list, weighing in at a 4.03/5 on the complexity scale, and it looks like it, with tech trees, route building, end game bonuses and juicy contracts waiting to be fulfilled.

4. Lost Ruins Of Arnak: The Missing Expedition

The second expansion to the incredibly popular Lost Ruins of Arnak, Missing Expedition, adds onto the already excellent Expeditions Leaders expansion and gives even more! Two new leaders are available for you to include, as well as new items, assistants and artefacts, a new temple track, and perhaps most special of all, a resettable 1-2 player campaign mode, consisting of six chapters, each with a different set of rules, goals, and achievements.

I thought the Expedition Leaders added a heck of a lot to this already excellent game, and I’m very excited to see how this new expansion will build even more. You can shuffle everything in the smaller box straight into the base game, because the rules overhead is incredibly simple. The first chapter of the campaign has been demoed in a few videos and I recommend you check it out, because it’s not just you and your friend out there. You have a rival which you must attempt to defeat as you explore Arnak further than ever before. Plus, look at the lil monkey! His name is Rusty!

3. The White Castle

The second Devir game of the list is also one that has my personal attention, The White Castle. Designed by Isra C and Shei S, the team behind the Red Cathedral, The White Castle has players competing to score the most victory points as one of the clans of Japan, aiming to be the most influential in the imposing Himeji Castle.

Over three rounds, players will use dice to trigger actions and hope to amass combos, which you will need, since you only have nine turns in which to send members of their clan to tend the gardens, defend the castle or progress up the social ladder of the nobility. Drafting dice from the three bridges gives you the actions, which some spaces requiring certain colours and every space needing a particular number. However, you can overpay with a higher value and be rewarded with coins, or underpay and have to pay the difference for the action to take effect, bringing a huge amount of mitigation to the dice rolls. There is a great depth of strategy here, because you have to be efficient in order to complete your objectives and score as many points as possible.


2. Evacuation

Vladimír Suchý and Delicious Games have combined again, following from last year’s excellent Woodcraft. That combination brought this game to my radar, but seemingly 956 other folks were sucked in too. In Evacuation, you are trying to deal with your planet slowly burning away. In a complete twist from most Euro games, you start the game with the fully functioning society and gradually have to dismantle it from the old planet so it can be rebuilt on the new. In order to do this, you choose actions from the player board, or from your hand if you’re including the expert variant. These actions have a value and this combined value contributes to an end of round bonus.

The target is to gain enough production of three resources and have three virtual reality machines on the new planet to win the game. Otherwise, score up at the end of the fourth round.
I love the flip of how the planet starts fully functional but gets gradually worse as the game goes on. I think that’s a really clever way to switch up the terraforming trope. I didn’t know this game existed until I started doing this list and I tell ya, it’s now pretty firmly on the watch list.

1. Among Cultists: A Social Deduction Thriller

Do you remember a time, back in 2020, where a video game all about little spacesuit clad creatures scurried about, completing tasks, and lying to your friends after you stabbed them in the back? That game was Among Us and it was the inspiration for this Kickstarted game, Among Cultists. Stefan Godot has taken the video game and brought it to the table, rethemed to players being a member of M, a secret society. The game has 4-8 players trying to prevent the arrival of evil at University, but beware, for the cultists are already within your midst. This hidden traitor team game has players either take on the role of Investigators and reach a target number of victory points or identify all the Cultists, or become a Cultist, attempting to sabotage the Investigation by killing off Investigators, identifying the Seer or stopping them from reaching their victory point total. One thing that a lot of you will be pleased to hear is that they have kept the lack of player elimination that made Among Us so popular. You can keep collecting points even if you’re dead.

I’m not a huge social deduction game fan, but this is certainly one that seems unique enough to warrant giving a play at a convention, and clearly 956 Board Game Geek users agree!
Oh and those two expansions I mentioned earlier? They are Mountains of Chaos and Down into the Abyss, each offering new maps and mechanisms in which to change up your Among Cultists experience.