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Essen Spiel 2019 travelogue part 2

So we left off at the end of a pleasantly successful Friday, of which you can read more about here.

Essen games are available for preorder from Essen Spiel '19 Haul category!

SATURDAY 

Saturdays at Spiel can be a bit of a drag, if you keep moving from one end of the convention center to the other without a clear plan, and even if we’d tried to take this into account, we still got caught in the swarm a few times. During the last couple of years the situation has been a bit better during Saturdays, so I’m no longer inclined to skip Saturday altogether, which I’ve done on occasion in lieu of wrestling for my spot at the demo tables.

The day got off to a quick start, as we’d reserved a demo for Nanty Narking, one of designer legend Martin Wallace’s newest creations, or shall we say reimplementations, as the game is for the most part the same as “Discworld: Ankh-Morpork”. The game is set in the 19h century world of  Dickens’ and Conan Doyle’s books, and features many literary characters as well as historical figures.

Nanty Narking

Our crew chose coffee as the brew of choice for the upcoming adventures in the Victorian streets of London in Nanty Narking.

While our demo guy seemed like he hadn’t entirely woken up yet, as he forgot to mention several rules forcing us to restart the game twice once we started playing, the game itself felt very intriguing and definitely had some thematic punch to it. 

Both players take turns playing cards, with which they fight over the control of London districts. Players also have secret roles with different victory conditions, which makes it both interesting and challenging to deduce which actions lead to victory for your opponents. Production values are through the roof in this one, as the game features detailed miniatures, card art that pulls you onto the streets of Victorian London and well-chosen characters that bind the experience together.

Now you could blame me for sounding like a salesman when it comes to the games we’ve presented here, and I’m sure you’d be right on some level, yet we had honestly been quite satisfied with the experiences on offer so far, and no dud was to follow after Nanty Narking either, as we headed for the Lautapelit.fi booth.

On the way to our next stop we passed Prêt-à-Porter that we wanted to play but didn’t end up having the time for. I’ll just mention it quickly, as it seems worth checking out if you’re looking for a different theme, in this case fashion design. The game is not new, but has now been updated to a 3rd version and looks even better than before.

Our friends at the Finnish company Toad Kings were demoing their upcoming megaproject Agemonia at the Lautapelit.fi stand. The designer Max Wikström has been crafting the world of Agemonia for a considerable time, as he created it for a role playing game 20 years ago, and the richness of the lore quickly shows when you sit down to play. This is in no small part due to the production effort put on by lp.fi, and we were blown away by the quality of the production. We could not believe we were playing a prototype at all!

The game is a co-operative adventure game in the style of Gloomhaven, and features scenarios that can be tackled in many different ways. The scenarios also play out differently depending on various variables in the game, so the game is replayable to a very high degree. We expect Agemonia to have a highly successful Kickstarter campaign when it launches next year!

Next on our list we had Tapestry, but we knew it was going to be really tough to get a seat at the table, and when the demo schedule had zero openings we quickly gave up on playing the game at Essen. Tapestry is a Stonemaier production, one of the most anticipated games of 2019 and looks obviously very good, so we did not feel too bad about not getting to experience it first-hand at Spiel. We knew we'd quickly get our chance once we were back at the store in Finland. Tapestry just arrived to our store, so get yours now! - Editor's note

Instead, we quickly munched down some döners (2 stars, obviously not the best in Germany) and waded through the crowd to get to Fuji Koro, a samurai themed dungeon crawler that can be played either co-operatively or competitively. The cute little samurais hop into the volcano of Mt Fuji that is about to erupt, as they are tasked with saving the artifacts hidden in the volcano temple. Now, I’m not a samurai lord, nor am I a buddhist monastery leader, but I would not recommend building temples in volcanoes. Just seems like common sense, you know?

Fuji Koro

The samurai of Fuji Koro would certainly fancy a pint of cold beer while dodging the molten lava of the sizzling volcano!

However, whatever the daimyo commands, samurai need to execute, so into the lava filled mountain you go, digging for resources to improve your katana and rescuing monks caught in the fiery mountain. The game definitely has a feel of its own, even if there is no shortage of dungeon crawlers on the market right now, so if you feel like the theme could be a hit in your play group, I’d definitely consider Fuji Koro.

"It’s a Wonderful World" was our most anticipated lighter game of this year’s Spiel, and the demo just kept adding to the excitement. To our disappointment, however, the game had super quickly sold out, and despite our best efforts we could not bring home any to sell right now. As consolation we did get a demo copy from the good people at Blackrock games, so you have a chance to come and check out this new drafting game at our store. The game plays like an updated version of 7 Wonders, and at least I felt like the changes seem to make a lot of sense from a slightly more competitive viewpoint, reducing the variance of 7 Wonders to some degree.

It's a wonderful world

It is nearly impossible to play It's a Wonderful World without hearing Louis Armstrong singing inside your head.

Saturday’s last game was Sarah’s Vision, which on paper sounded exciting and was gaining some buzz early on during the convention. The game is set in 2163 in a world where technology is “setting humanity free”. A mysterious group of elite individuals opposes this development and wants to see the world return to the dark ages of the 2000s, where they, the elite, controlled resources and humans.

However, as a fan of good scifi, I can’t honestly say I was blown away by the background story. Yet it was the gameplay that really made this my personal dud of Spiel 2019. The co-op game combines pattern optimization with a curious Jenga tower mechanic, which could've been a fun and different take on Jenga, if the theme wasn’t so serious. However, as it stands the game lacks humor completely and is simply not written very well (nor is the theme heavily integrated into the game). The art was quite pretty, and I appreciate the original approach, but can’t see this having a lot of success.

As the day drew to a close, we left the fair with buzzing minds. The hustle and bustle is a lot of fun, but also ensures that sleep is easy to come by when your head hits the pillow. Despite the slight drowsiness we got to enjoy a dinner in good company as the traditional Saturday Finnish-Austrian Spiel dinner was held yet again, before getting to catch those much needed z’s.

SUNDAY

I can never decide if I hate daylight savings or not, because more often than not I love it every fall when we gain that hour, and obviously hate losing the hour every spring. Especially after two long days at Spiel it felt simply amazing to have that extra hour, so I’m doubly not complaining about it this year. Grabbing that extra hour I headed out for a morning run around parts of Essen I’d never seen before, enjoying the morning sun with some stubborn ducks immensely. After a splendid hotel breakfast I was more than ready to take on Sunday and the crowd for the last time!

Sunday priority number one was the Czech Games area with a multitude of interesting releases on display including Sanctum, the new expansion for Through the Ages (which I’m personally really excited for) and Letter Jam. As I already mentioned in the first part, we passed by Sanctum on Friday which we had not initially had on our list. Now was the time to delve into this bit of demon smashing fun!

Sanctum is essentially the PC game Diablo turned into a board game, though obviously not officially licensed. You play as a competing bunch of adventurers looking to slay demons, gain some loot and in the end survive the boss battle with the Lord of Demons. That’s right, one of the peculiarities of the game is the scoring of the final battle, which mainly tracks your hitpoints, not your success against the demon lord in other ways. While this is thematically a bit underwhelming, I suspect the game is interesting and varied enough to pull you attention away from its minor flaws.

The mechanic involves rolling dice, but there are a lot of ways to modify the rolls with the help of your equipment and abilities you unlock, so the variance seems to be handled quite well. Overall, the game looked awesome, and the designer Filip Neduk is known for translating PC gaming experiences to board games seamlessly (see: Adrenaline), so I’d definitely give this beauty a look or two!

As we had some “boring” business meetings lined up for Sunday, the actual playing was limited to CGE and FFG, but this certainly still left quite a few games to discover and marvel at, as the FFG area’s theme of the year was definitely Marvel licensed games. FFG is now releasing both Marvel: Crisis Protocol (which you can come and check out at the store) and Marvel: Champions, the newest addition to the FFG LCG line-up, and boy did they look colorful and enjoyable! 

Marven Crisis Protocol

Can you name all different Marvel characters from the photo? (Marvel: Crisis Protocol)

While we did not have time to sit down with Crisis Protocol (and we figured we’d have time at the store with our demo copy anyways), we did spend some time with the co-operative Champions LCG.

In Champions you get to play with your favorite Marvel hero teaming up with other heroes to take down the villains. Each player builds their 40-50 card deck before the scenario takes off. The villains all have schemes that they are trying to realize, and if you’re not careful you quickly end up losing as the scheme advances. 

It is also important to note that the gameplay changes constantly, as the game forces you to switch between your hero and your alter ego, so if you for example chose Spider-Man as your champion, you also have to do actions as Peter Parker, which might leave you open for the villains attacks. Obviously there is also a rich cast of supporting characters and other cards to help you in your efforts.

After a colorful time spent at the FFG area, we headed for our last spin around the back halls full of smaller releases. As mentioned, we still had one important game to try out at this point, namely Soviet Kitchen Unleashed. The game was quickly found and we jumped into a demo right away. 

Soviet Kitchen Unleashed

A hammer and a sickle, the Soviet chef's most important tools. (Soviet Kitchen Unleashed)

We were told to get into the mindset of a Soviet citizen and were dealt cards / ingredients that we were to mix in a blender shown on the screen of a pad. The cards are chosen to match a color on the screen, and the blend of all players colors determines the outcome and quality of the dish. 

The cards have QR-codes on them that are shown to the mobile device, and once all players have chosen their ingredients the app then determines whether or not your combination was successful. You also have to take into account the toxicity and radioactiveness of the ingredients, so that the culinary delight at the end of the round doesn’t end up killing you.

Soviet Kitchen Unleashed

The game's app works with any Android or iPhone device. The players try to mix the ordered color without intoxicating their soviet comrades too much with QR-coded ingredient cards. (Soviet Kitchen Unleashed)

With its whimsical theme and fast pace, SKU managed to make us chuckle more than a few times and we decided to grab a whole box of them to make sure you guys get to share some laughs as well. Big thumbs up to the energetic German team, and we would not be surprised if they bring more original creations to the market in the future!

Once we’d made sure a box of Soviet Kitchen Unleashed would arrive at the store in a week or two, we’d reached the end of the line for this year’s Spiel. Grabbing a cab we were definitely tired, but also inspired to place a slew of orders once we’d arrive back in Helsinki. Spiel is a treat every year, and I heartily recommend a pilgrimage to Essen for any fan of tabletop games. No event can really compare itself to Spiel in magnitude, and we will be back in 2020 for sure!

END OF PART TWO 

- Aarne