Essen 2017

Essen. The name of a German town with a population of over 500,000. A name which has been adopted by the board game community to refer to Intenationale Spieltage Essen, one of the largest board gaming conventions in the world. Last year, we interviewed Dr Harvey O’Brien, a veritable master of the convention on his experiences, and for the first time, both Emmet and I will be in attendance. But this visit will be a short one: we fly in Wednesday evening, spend all day Thursday and Friday at the convention, and fly back on Friday night. Paddy has put together a list of some of the things he’s most looking forward to.

The Games

Well, of course the games. With over 1,000 new games, expansions and promos slated to be released at the convention, games obviously play a big part in why you want to go to Essen, and for some, the only real reason. There are a number of big releases in the pipeline for this, and every Essen, including new games from such renowned designers as Uwe Rosenberg, Richard Breese, Jamey Stegmaier and Bruno Cathala.

Do I have a list of games I’m interested in? You better believe it. I’ve even made some pre-orders. But my goal is not to go out and pick up the best, new games from the hottest designers. I know these will be available in retail afterwards, either from my local game store, or from online retailers. I might pick up a few of these bigger releases, but we’re pretty restricted with luggage space, so we’ll play it by ear a little.

Mostly, I’ve pre-ordered, and want to look at games from smaller publishers, games that were on Kickstarter I didn’t back, or games from countries that mightn’t make retail in Europe. A look at my list of pre-ordered games and you’ll notice I’ve pre-ordered several from Taiwan Board Game Design. I’m really curious about these games, to see what designers who are outside the European/US sphere of game design come up with, and how their designs might reflect their culture or different ways of thinking.

The People

I listen to a number of board game podcasts and read a number of board game blogs, and I’m really looking forward to seeing who I can meet.

Ben and Georgious from The Perfect Information Podcast are having a meet up on Thursday which I’m going to go to. There may even be a game of Abluxxum in the works.

I’m hoping to swing by the booth of Surprised Stare Games, and shake the hand of Tony Boydell, who designed one of my favourite games of 2016, Guilds of London and whose daily blog over on BoardGameGeek entertains no end.

The list goes on. I could spend the next thousand words on people who will be at Essen I’d like to meet, say hello to, and grab a quick selfie with if possible. Not only that, but I’m travelling with one of my oldest friends, and it’ll be a great opportunity to spend some time with him. Not to mention the other gamers I know who are travelling to the convention! Games are what bring us together, but the people are what make our hobby what it is and Essen will be the exact same.

The Experience

I’ve already decided that I won’t be rushing into the game halls, dashing to pick up the latest, hottest games before they sell out. This is my first Essen experience, and I want to enjoy it. I plan on taking my time to take the whole thing in.

We have gaming conventions in Ireland, but nothing on this scale. The largest convention in Ireland might have attendances in the hundreds, whereas Essen will reach into the tens of thousands. Frankly I can’t believe I’m going, it’s still not real, but I’m really looking forward to what is, for many in the hobby, THE board gaming convention.

The Games II

OK, I know what you’re here for. You really just want me to put together a list of games I’m anticipating from Essen. Well, fine, here’s some games I have my eye on. Hopefully I’ll pick up a few, but with my planned, leisurely pace, who know if there’ll be any left by the time I get there.

Modern Art – Oink Games

The Crafty Players Modern Art Oink GamesModern Art is one of Reiner Knizia’s designs, and one that is very well regarded. Originally published in 1992, it’s really made a comeback this year, with new English, Korean and Taiwanese language editions. But my eye is on the German edition, being published by Oink Games. Oink are a small Japanese publisher, whose games are a joy to behold, with incredible graphic and art design, great component quality and a lot of game in a small, small box. Given Modern Art is language independent, this is the version I’m aiming to pick up, given Oink’s proven track record of quality.

John Company – Sierra Madra Games

The Crafty Players John CompanyJohn Company is an Essen release designed by Cole Wehrle and published by Sierra Madre Games. Cole’s previous game, An Infamous Traffic, garnered a lot of attention last year for its interesting theme (Opium War in China, check out this series by Extra Credits) and engaging game play. However, the publisher Hollandspiele, is a print on demand publisher based in the US, and shipping to Europe is prohibitive, killing any chance of me getting the game. So I went for the next best thing and pre-ordered Cole’s newest game to pick up at Essen! Once again, the theme is interesting, based around the East India Trading Company, with players trying to manipulate the company and its trade for personal gain.

Merlin – Queen Games

The Crafty Players MerlinI’m a big fan of the Stefan Feld games I’ve played: Bora Bora, Castles of Burgundy, Notre Dame and In The Year of the Dragon. I’ve not played a Feld game I don’t like, though there are mixed feelings about some of his releases. But I’m a positive guy and I’m going to focus on the games I do like, which means I’m willing to buy his newest game sight unseen. Don’t let me down Stefan!

Transatlantic – Rio Grande Games

The Crafty Players TransatlanticWhile I’m not as big a fan of Mac Gerdts as I am of Stefan Feld, he has a good pedigree. His most popular and well known game is Concordia, which is the darling of Euro gamers, and is the standard against which many other Euros are judged by the guys over at Shut Up and Sit Down. I’m also a fan of his older, 2006 release Imperial, which really captured my imagination for being a luckless game. The theme of shipping freight, mail and passengers around the globe may not be the most interesting, but as we all know, I’m a “theme doesn’t matter” kind of guy.

Heaven & Ale – eggertspiele

The Crafty Players Heaven & AlePart of the problem with going to Essen, is that some games don’t come with much info in the lead up to launch. Some ended up on my list early due to theme and art and I haven’t removed them since. Hell, a lot of them did. Yeah, I know I just said I’m a “theme doesn’t matter” kind of guy, but I’m judging books by the cover here. Heaven & Ale is about monks brewing beer and the cover looks like stained glass. What more could you want? Well, a designer with pedigree might help, and oh look, Michael Kiesling is one of the designers.

Tulip Bubble – Moaideas

The Crafty Players Tulip BubbleI don’t know why, but I have this fascination with games that involve stocks or investing or variable markets. It’s possibly because I’m experimenting with these mechanics in my own game design, but being a business graduate who’s been infatuated with the stock market from a young age might also play a role. So here I am, age 32, looking at a game that emulates the economic bubble that developed around the sale of tulip bulbs during the Dutch Golden Age.

Mini-Rails – Moaideas

The Crafty Players Mini RailsOh, look, another game from Moaideas. Mini-Rails is a completely different game to Tulip Bubble, though I can’t imagine the idea of building railroads is going to be any more appealing than a nearly 400 year old financial crises. This game has had me intrigued since I watched the excellent Heavy Cardboard teaching and play through. Each player has two actions per turn, each of which they can only do once per turn, either expanding their position on the map or buying stock. The game looks simple, but I feel it’s depth belies its simplicity.

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