It has become a tradition to go to Essen Spiel on Thursday and play the new games we bought over the weekend (Friday to Monday). We played 10 out of the 20 games we bought already and here are my first impressions for them (in random order). All games played with my girlfriend (two-players).
Maracaibo is one of the hottest Essen Spiel releases this year. It's the latest big-box game from Alexander Pfister (Great Western Trail, Blackout: Hong Kong, etc.). Since we love both GWT and B:HK we picked this up without knowing much about the game. We played a single game of Maracaibo thus far and we really enjoyed our play. We did struggle with the rulebook and the board a bit, some things could've been better worded and some of the iconography on the board is a but unclear (where do I put the ship? Where do I put the assistants? Where do I place quest tiles for a specific location?). It's also unfortunate that there are a few missprints on some of the components, but they will be resolved in the near future. We played without the campaign story for our first game but there is a thick deck of story cards in the box so we are really interested in the campaign element of the game. Maracaibo lends a few mechanics from Pfisters other games like the trail from GWT and the career goals from B:HK (emergency plans) and melds them into a completely new and fresh experience. Can't wait to play this more and explore the depths off this game.
Electropolis is a tile-laying city building game from a small publisher from Taiwan. In this game you must plan out the best energy plan for your city while trying to gain public support and keep pollution to a minimum. Electropolis plays simple but has a lot of tactical depth for a tile-laying game. There are different types of energy plants (coal, gas, nuclear and green) that all score in different ways that create a nice and thinky puzzle. I'm certain this game will see more plays in the coming weeks.
Glen More II: Chronicles
I regretted missing out on Glen More II when it was on Kickstarter. So the first thing I did on Thursday was head over to the Funtails booth to get myself a copy of Glen More II. I have never played the original but after watching some playthroughs of this new edition I was sure I wanted to add it to my collection. We've played it twice now, once without any chronicles and once with "The Dragon Boats Race" chronicle. We are really blown away by this game! So many decisions with the timetrack, beautiful art and components, solid gameplay and lots of replayability with the chronicles. The rulebook is really good (I'm looking at you Maracaibo) and explains everything in detail. I can't wait to try the other chronicles and even combine multiple chronicles into one game.
In Porto you're trying to build beautiful houses in this iconic city in Portugal. Porto is a fast-playing, competitive tile-laying game driven by card play. On your turn, you either draw cards or build floors. This makes the game play really similar to Ticket to Ride (get cards, or play cards). I can see this becoming a game that you can introduce to non-gamers, the good thing is it plays a lot faster than Ticket to Ride. Porto is a really solid entry game that might lack some depth for our tastes.
Underwater Cities: New Discoveries
Underwater Cities is one of our favourite games so we were really excited to learn that there was an expansion coming. The expansion adds new cards for the 3 era's, a museum discovery board, new metropolises and 3-layer player boards (two-sided). The new player boards are a huge improvement and everything stays in place while playing. You also get some new player-boards for the different variants in the rulebook. The new cards are a great addition for the variability and replayability (there are already a ton of cards in the base game). The museum board and discoveries add a new gameplay mechanic where you get to do discoveries as soon as you build something in a certain spot. These discoveries give you an instant bonus (draw cards, some kelp, VPs) and a bonus from the museum board (instant effect, special cards, or game-end scoring). The museum has a A and B side for even more replayability. I think we'll never play without it.
Before Essen we didn't have any trick-taking games in our collection. When I did my Essen research I came across some new expansions for the game Claim by the dutch publisher White Goblin Games. After some investigation I figured this would be my first trick-taking game. We are super impressed by the depth of the Claim base game that we played it a few times in a row and had a great time. In Claim you play a series of tricks to win the favour of the 5 different factions in the deck. You can swap out factions from the base game and swap in new ones from the expansions for loads of combinations. The expansion we added, after a few plays with the base game, was the Claim: Reinforcements – Mercenaries expansion. This expansion introduces 3 new factions and 18 different heroes that all have unique abilities. Claim is a real brain burner, in the beginning you have no idea what you're actually doing but after a few plays everything falls into place. I can really recommend Claim (and/or Claim 2 + expansions) if you're into trick-taking games.
We love Orléans so Orléans Stories was a must buy. After struggling through the rulebook (again not very good) we started our first playthrough of the shorter story (The Kings Favour). After a few rounds we found out we made a mistake (only applied the era bonus at the end of the era instead of every round) and started over. After that initial hurdle we enjoyed our playthrough of The Kings Favour. In each story you playthrough multiple Eras that add specific rules, goals and bonuses. There are two stories included in the game. We love the Orléans bagbuilding mechanic that is also present in this game. What we didn't like is the fact that the story gives you very specific goals that you need to focus on which makes using a specific strategy harder. This makes us wonder if we want to replay stories if we've finished them. We were also a bit surprised by the fact this first story introduced player eliminiation (when not achieving the era goals in time). We're looking forward to trying the longer more complex story to see if that gives a bit more freedom in determining your own strategy. Conclusion: good, but I'm not sure yet it will replace Orléans for us.
Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
In Ishtar you try to develop a garden in a desert by placing gardens (tiles) next to fountains (for water supply). By placing tiles you pick-up gems with which you can buy trees or special skills. Ishtar was an impulse buy after seeing it's beautiful art and components. After watching some people play it I figure it's one of those relaxing, tile-laying game that has a nice bit of depth but not too much. Perfect after a long day of work. I'm really surprised by this game and I think this will get loads of plays in the coming weeks.
Point Salad is a quick filler card game where you try to collect vegetable cards and scoring cards. On your turn you either pick 2 vegetable cards from the face-up display or take 1 of the scoring cards from one of the three stacks. It's fast, it's fun and it's good. If you're looking for a filler don't look any further.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
We really like the Roll & Write games and while I was looking through the new releases this one got my attention. We love the world / art of Roll Player and this Roll & Write seemed to have some nice player interaction with the ambush cards. After one play I can say I really like the game. It adds a nice twist to the Roll & Write genre where you pass your sheet to the next player when an ambush occurs.