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Top 10 Pick’s From Essen 2023

Essen - Orleans Plague
Essen - Orleans Plague

Last year, I had a deep dive into my picks of Essen Spiel 2022 – both the base games and the expansions. This year, I’ve done things a little differently. I’ve already run through the ten hottest items from the preview list, which you can check out here, but this list is the ten picks I want, with a few honourable mentions which I’ve talked about in the other list. If you want to read more about those four titles, go and check out the other post. But for now, let’s see what I’m highlighting for the biggest convention in Europe.


Darwin’s Journey: Mini Expansions – Thundergryph Games

This is a bit of a cop-out because these mini expansions were included within the original Kickstarter for Darwin’s Journey, but I missed that so I want them! These expansions, Darwin Worker, Falmouth Port, Great Ship, Pirates and Animal Companion, each add a module to include within the base game of Darwin’s Journey, a game where you follow the life and research of Charles Darwin. I love being able to add one or more modules to a game that I’ve spent a fair bit of time exploring and just refreshes things a bit. I’m nowhere near that point with Darwin’s Journey, but I love the idea of being able to bring out the special Darwin’s crew member, a single use worker with 6 purple wax seals, or bonus Ship cards to give some special benefits during the game. It’s all very tasty additional content I can store in the main box.

Hippocrates: Agora – Game Brewer

Last year saw Hippocrates, a tile placement game where players fulfil contracts of patient sickness, following the death of the father of medicine, Hippocrates. The description for the expansion is: “Next to the temple, where you and your team of physicians are striving to heal the sick and treat the wounded, lies the Agora. This main gathering place is filled with activity, commerce, politics, and people from every level of society. Navigate this central hub to find help for your new medical practice. Become the worthy successor to Hippocrates at the Agora!”

In this expansion to Hippocrates, you will find 4 modules that can be added to the base game, which you can choose to include one or many at once These are: The Leaders; The Nurses; Benefactors and Nobles; and The Events. Again, more modular expansions, a really unique theme and something I would love to get my teeth into. Not literally of course. That would be unhygienic.

Carcassonne: The Wonders Of Humanity – Hans Im Gluck

There is very little to go through on this one, with the Board Game Geek description just being one sentence. “The Wonders of Humanity adds historic wonders to the tile-laying game, with each of these marvels having a unique effect on play.”

I have no idea how these wonders will be included, because there is really very little details so far, but from the box art, there seems to be some unusually shaped tiles which you can add to the board throughout the game, giving additional options for weird and wonderful cities in the world of Carcassonne. Given how well the Mists over Carcassonne standalone expansion did last year, it’s clear the love for one of the games which got a fair chunk of us into the hobby is still going strong.

Sea Salt & Paper: Extra Salt – Bombyx

This is a super small expansion for the hit card game, Sea Salt and Paper, which has been tricky to get over here. It has recently come across, and has a huge following on Board Game Arena. This little expansion of 8 new cards with 5 new effects that you can season into your game, shuffling into the box. To be clear, there are more than 8 cards in the expansion (I believe), just there are multiples of the 8 different cards. I’ve had a chance to play this expansion on BGA, and it’s really nice to just add something new to this little game. You can trigger a new powers with different combinations, like lobsters can be mixed with crabs or jellyfish with swimmers, as well as seahorses and starfish which have their own skills. Definitely one to add that will take up very little space.

Orleans: The Plague – DLP Games

Orleans is a fantastic bag builder that is unfortunately very difficult to come across these days. There have been other versions, like Joan of Arc: Draw & Write and Orleans Stories, but this is the third expansion for the original.

“Mon Dieu, quelle horreur! The inhabitants of Orléans have been hit hard as the plague has come upon them, bringing suffering and misery to the population. There are many dead to mourn, and even the plague doctor can bring only limited relief and hope to the long-suffering inhabitants. The clergy also has little to offer in the way of relief. And so, in the end, everyone is on their own and must try to protect their followers as best they can...”

When you use the The Plague expansion, the game conditions are made tougher from the start of play thanks to the "rat cards". Sometimes there are fewer monks in the game, sometimes no gears may be placed on place cards or the building of trading stations must be paid for with an additional coin.

New events are now also linked to the "corpse tokens" which players must included at the end of each round. These tokens might be randomly drawn from the bag at the beginning of the round and occupy valuable space on the marketplace because they cannot be used for any action. There are ways to remove the awkward inclusions, and each player includes a plague doctor which can be used universally and mitigate some of the issues.

I really like Orleans, because deck, pool and bag building is one of my favourite mechanisms, and having something like this which can make the game harder for you and give a new challenge to the experienced players of your group.

Full Games

Fit to Print – AEG

Peter McPherson has returned from the wilderness with his new game, Fit to Print, bringing news of Thistleville, a bustling little town, which needs to hear what’s going on on the weekend. Our job is to be the editors of competing newspapers, who have no time for perfection. In this real-time tile drafting and placement game, players have to grab newspaper tiles, including adverts, news and photos, lay them out on the board and combine them to make an appropriate newspaper.

One of the neat mechanisms, and something I fell foul of in the first playthrough is that the player with the lowest income from adverts will automatically lose because you go bankrupt. I like that because it means you have to balance everything, not just focus on one thing.

If real-time games aren’t for you, Fit to Print has a number of alternative modes to satisfy every type of puzzle gamer. In Slo-Mode players take turns drafting tiles from a shared market and arranging them on their front pages. In Puzzle Mode, take a specific set of tiles and piece together the highest-scoring arrangements. Whether you enjoy relaxing solo puzzles on your own, or frenetic action for up to 6 players, you will have a blast helping the critters of Thistleville tell their stories!

Sankoré: The Pride of Mansa Musa – Osprey Games

This nice bright game sees a return of Ian O’Toole as artist and Fabio Lopiano joined by Mandela Fernandez-Grandon as “1-4 players manage the prestigious University of Sankoré in 14th-century Timbuktu, tasked by the emperor Mansa Musa with spreading knowledge throughout West Africa, even as the great university is raised around them. By enrolling and graduating your students, teaching classes, adding to your curriculum, and filling the great library with books, you will advance knowledge in different academic disciplines. Once construction of the university is complete, the value that the empire places on each discipline will be decided, and your academic legacy will be judged. Can you navigate this fast-changing world of scholarly competition?”

A quick skim of the rulebook shows an attention to detail, including historical notes, and some really interesting design choices as you attempt to navigate the education of mathematics, theology, astronomy and law, and the actions you can take can combo into each other in a very satisfying way.

This game isn’t available to purchase just yet, but it is being demoed and I really enjoyed Merv, the game in which Sankore is a spiritual successor for, so I’m looking forward to giving this one a go when it releases fully next year.

Apiary – Stonemaier

Whilst technically not releasing at Essen, this will be the first chance for gamers to take a look at Apiary, the upcoming debut game from Connie Vogelmann published by Stonemaier, all about space bees! In the void left on Earth after the humans disappeared, the bees evolved into the Mellifera, becoming highly intelligent and growing, taking on the technology from the ruins of the human society.

“In Apiary, each player controls one of twenty unique factions. Your faction starts the game with a hive, a few resources, and worker bees. A worker-placement, hive-building challenge awaits you: explore planets, gather resources, develop technologies, and create carvings to demonstrate your faction's strengths (measured in victory points) over one year's Flow. However, the Dearth quickly approaches, and your workers can take only a few actions before they must hibernate! Can you thrive or merely survive?”

I love a Stonemaier title, and the concept of a new society of bees that gain strength the more you use them is deeply interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing this one on the table soon.

Planta Nubo – The Game Builders

Ok, so who had the next Uwe Rosenburg game featuring farming oxygen in order to save the world? Anyone one? That’s what this game, co-designed by Rosenburg, Michael Keller (II) and Adreas Odendahl, is all about.

“In Planta Nubo players grow energy-rich flowers and plants in cloudy gardens – the treetops of the Arbors. Deliver them to bee-like airships which transport them to the biomass converters to be transformed into green energy. Sow woods on the freshly harvested soil. Energize helpful modules while your woods, your bots and the Arbor produce desperately needed oxygen. Make good use of your tools to perform actions and use your garden bot to help you grow flowers. Supply your platform bot with energy to use modules and operate Oxyfarms. Turn your Arbor into the best oxygen production facility! If you produce the most oxygen by the end of the game you win!”

I wasn’t looking for a big heavy game, but this might be taking my interest for heavy game of the convention. A weight of 4/5 is no small matter, and what really drew me in was the gorgeous box art by Luka Siegmon, as well as the tag line of “players create their own gardens in the sky to harvest oxygen in a Solar Punk world.” I like the idea of a solar punk world. It seems much brighter than steam punk.

Mytikas – Funnyfox

“At the top of Mount Olympus, hidden above the clouds, lies Mytikas. Here the gods reign supreme, watching over and governing the lives of the mortals below. You are builders who wish to uncover the mystery of Olympus and draw nearer to the divine light. You must therefore construct prosperous cities and magnificent temples at different levels on the mountain by skilfully moving your resources closer to the summit. Gaining the favour of the gods at just the right moment will help you complete your task, but there is limited space on the mountain...

In Mytikas, you play as builders who must construct cities and temples on Mount Olympus. The higher up you construct them, the more prestige you gain. You need to produce resources, then move them up the levels of Mount Olympus. When you make offerings to the gods, you gain their favor and benefit from their special abilities.

At the end of the game, you calculate your points based on where your buildings are constructed, as well as from any deity cards you control. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins and earns the title of Chief Builder for the Gods.”

I love a Greek mythology theme, and this one is incredibly appealing. It seems like a quick medium weight game, taking about 30-60 minutes, really pretty artwork from Alain Boyer, chunky pieces and gods. This seems like it’ll be a blast when I get a chance to play it and I’m very excited for it, even if it has gone under the radar a little bit.