Essen 200 kicked off officially with Dakota, this much hyped game of area control and resource management was billed as the nastiest and toughest German game for years. In it you take the role of either a Native or a Settler and essentially fight the progress of the other players, with you out to prove that you are the best. Settlers and Natives are in direct competition, with success for one ultimately meaning failure for the other, the subtlety and "genius" of the game is meant to come from the internal battles within each camp. In our game, Nick and I were pitched against Julia and Andy, whilst on table 2 Michael found himself up against the combined efforts of John, Nick 2, Brian and Stephen.
The game has a nice shared area control/bidding mechanic for resources, frankly this was pretty much the only fun part of the game and after 5 or 6 rounds of this we discovered that it was only fun because we are automatically drawn towards conflict.
In our game Julia pipped Nick, then I. The three way attack strategy adopted by Andy failed miserably. In the other game, Michael cruised to a win whilst the settlers all bickered over resources.
Looks - Pretty
Mechanics - Old Hat
Hynes Rating - Broken!.
We actually went off in search of Poseidon when we cane across this ZMan train game. The box announces it as an 18 Ankh Ankh game, we decided after much time invested that "Ankh of Steam" would have been more appropriate.
We had the pleasure of being taught the game by Steve the designer, this charming American chap spent quite some time discussing the games origins, which essentially consisted of him trying to make a single game containing the most over used mechanics/themes in gaming ..... Egypt, Trains, Auctions, Set Collection and Area Control. One would think that this would create a chaotic, random and ultimately messy gaming experience, surprisingly it doesnt, what one experiences is a tight, well balanced and aggressive train game, part Age of Steam, part El Grande and part many other games you have loved.
Steve went to great lengths to explain how it had play tested, he encouraged caution and highlighted the importance of cash management, he just about fell off his seat when I opened the first auction for turn order with a bid of $5. He presumed this must have been a case of beginners naivety, how wrong he was as future rounds began with $6, $8 and on one occasion $13.
Steve seemed to be really happy that such a tough group of gamers were having such fun with his baby, we bumped into him on a number of occasions after this and were greeted each time with "Hey!. Hows my favourite Games Group?"
The game plays a lot like Age of Steam in the general round mechanic but the set collection and area control aspects take it off into another spectrum entirely.
We all Loved it, Stephen bought it!
Looks - Egyptian
Mechanics - All of them!
Hynes Rating: Genius!
After lunch we pitched up at Rio Grande Games, we hadnt been too excited by the options at this stand and when we split in two it looked as though Nick, Andy and Stephen had won the watch with 20th Century, I still havent played it but this Polish game received high praise from all three. Andy bought it.
Looks: Eastern Block
Mechanic : Unknown
Hynes Rating: Genius
Whilst the other chaps were investing in 20th Century, I convinced a reluctant group consisting of Brian, Julia and Michael to play this one, Alea's new mid box about Chieftains and Whisky. It all looked a bit fiddly at first, reminding me a little too much of Alhambra, Julia was less complimentary. Michael and Bryan seemed to be enjoying it and by round 3, I had started to warm to its inner charms, Julia remained unconvinced and despite winning the game labelled it a stinker.
Unperturbed I bought a copy, I had to, it's an Alea after all. We popped it open at Essen airport on the way home and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Mechanic: Factory Building/Worker Placement
Hynes Rating: Genius
Julia and I decided to go for a wander to Treefrog and left Michael, Brian and Nick 2 to play the first of the Friedman Friesse Essen Releases, this stock market beer production game had been hyped prior to the event and we were eager to hear their views. They returned later with a copy which augured well. So Andy, Julia, Michael, Stephen and I settled in, we had been quite excited by the market engine when it had been explained to us earlier in the day, at the Power Grid stand. Things started well and Andy was quick to point out the "Genius" in the mechanic, I was less impressed finding the game a little tedious and solitairy. A few rounds passed and Andy dried a little, noticing that in over 45 minutes he hadnt once bothered to look at his opponents fields. We all raced to a finish adopting totally different strategies, I opted for low yield and quick build, completing five palaces promptly, however the card sorting mechanism, left me flipping through a few rounds of useless hands waiting for my 6th palace to become available, Julia opted to hoard cash ready for a final push, Andy and Stephen looked on hopelessly and all of us failed to notice Michael rush to a victory with a double last round build.
Looks - Predictable
Mechanic - Pointless
Hynes Rating - Genius ...... Err No Broken
This dominionesque card game was the buzz of the event, I didnt play but Nick had multiple games and seemed impressed, Andy played one game whilst borderline unconscious and drunk, thus it wouldnt be fair to apply the now patented rating system.
Looks - Space Age
Mechanic - Card Management/Set Collection
Hynes Rating - Unknown
On Friday we rushed back to ZMan and grabbed five seats for this 18xx clone, things started badly as the rules explanation wasnt going well, our gold toothed German instructor was making no sense and with phrases like "2 ships shit" and "4 kills 2", my hangover kicked in and my frustrations reached breaking point when I instructed him to stop and give Nick the rules, he took the hint to stop explaining but this didnt stop him talking and with every question raised by Michael, my head pounded exponentially, eventually I buggered off and asked to be called for when we started.
I returned with fluids and after another 15 minutes or so we kicked off on what turned out to be the second most popular game at the event (with 3 copies purchased)
Midway through the game Andy arrived nursing a bigger hangover than me and watched as a standard Primordial Group 18xx end game ensued. Julia had gone for No control and loads of stocks, Nick and Stephen opted for big shares in a few top companies and I went for Majority shares in three, the system in poseiden where companies rarely devalue meant that there was very little difference in end game share values, this paid off for me handsomely providing my fourth victory in four 18xx outings. It was tighter than normal, my £2717, defeating Julias £2672, Stephen and Michael produced respectable scores of just over £2500, whilst Nick realised that no matter how much he loves this concept he simply cannot bag a success, coming in a distant last on $1750.
Later that day Andy, Julia and I nursing recovering hangovers played a game at the hotel and I claimed my fifth win this time nudging Andy by a mere £6.
Looks - Lovely
Mechanic - 18xx
Hynes Rating - Genius.
Truckers Version 1.5
Earlier in the day we had spent some time at the Japon Games stand and had all fallen in love with the quirky look of their games. I splurged on an untested set collection game, purely on the looks of the cards, we had a chat with the designer and he kindly signed my set.
After our three player Posiedon, we broke this open and began working out the rules, a couple of glitches and a few moments of madness in play had us thinking this was a cute but worthless game, however we battled on and warmed to its charms.
Later that night, Nick Julia, Stephen and I gave it another outing and all loved it.
Looks - Stunning
Mechanic - Set Collection/Race
Hynes Rating - Broken ..... Err No Genius
Both Nick and I had been drawn to this game about the second largest salt mine in the world, Andy was cynical to the point of dismissal, however we wandered over to the Polish games stand and met the enigmatic and embarrassingly young designers, they charmed us all and Stephen was first to pull out his wallet. They used key phrases like "Nasty", "Screwage" and "Evil". Even Andy was given an acceptable explanation as to why they had made a game about the second largest salt mine in the world and not the largest.
It was played twice by our group and once by the Edinburgh boys, Nick was so impressed he bought two more copies, one for him and one for Colin. Sadly I didnt get a chance to play nor did Andy, thus I cannot let you know if it was indeed Broken or Genius, you will have to find out for yourself.
Rio De La Plata
We had all been looking for this years Sushizock and Stephen was sure he and Nick had stumbled upon it that afternoon, we broke it open close to midnight in the crammed Ibis Bar.It consists of a box of eggs and two dice, you roll the dice, grab eggs and then have to show your dexterity by holding them in compromising positions. We drew many bemused and even more annoyed looks as we fell about laughing, fell over each other, knocked over drinks and fought for rolling Eggs. I havent laughed so much in years.
It gleaned another outing at 4am in the hotel reception, Andy came out the other end with a leg injury and the whole group earned the annoyance of the hotel staff, it didnt stop us playing it again!
Looks - Eggs
Mechanic - Stupidity
Hynes Rating - Genius.
We always plan to settle in for a long session at one company site on a Saturday but having been underwhelmed by Rio Grande and unimpressed by Queens offering, we opted for Hutch games, we turned up to discover that all the tables had been prebooked, we panicked and looked for a quick alternative, I remembered Hans Im Gluck having a few tatsy offerings and we were lucky to grab a table. our attempt to hold two was foiled by the organisers, but we were able to get five of us accommodated at Loch Ness.
This strange race game, where half the players simultaneously move Nessy and everyone tries to predict her destination, seemed a little light but after a few rounds we noticed the internal beauty, the gloves came off and we all fought bluff with double bluff, sadly my opening rounds had been weak and I found myself out of sight of the leaders, Nick claimed a Victory but was closely chased by Julia, Stephen and Andy, we all suggested that one of us should buy a copy but sadly noone took the hint.
Looks - Scottish Again
Mechanic - Card Play
Hynes Rating - Broken/Genius
From the stable that brought you Traders of Genoa, this ship/train game, set collection, resource management game might have been my favourite of the whole trip. We played twice and all involved loved the simplicity and competition. It throws up massive challenges as everyone shares communal networks and buildingsl, you simply score for what you added and when. It was a lovely brain burner which played in 45 minutes, sadly we couldnt find where it could be purchased until the very last minute by which time we had all filled out bags to bursting.
Looks - Disappointingly Obvious
Mechanic - Link Building, Resource Management
Hynes Rating - Genius
Rio De La Plata
After much table hovering we finally managed to grab a post lunch table at Rio Grande, we considered the new Friedman Friesse Stock market game but had heard poor reviews, we were talked into considering a 5 player Three Musketeers game, however within 2 lines of rules reading, my Coop fear kicked in and then it all went blank, we binned it in favour of an apparently 90 minute city building war game. We waited for a rules explanation and all collapsed in fear at the suggestion of 5 hours to complete, we decided to give it a blast and all quickly started to hate the tedious mechanism, so much so we quickly engineered a war and raced to see it through. It merits no further explanation, think simply of a very detailed Carcassone with a Junta/Struggle of Empires war round and then take away every appealing image this throws up - simply awful!
Looks - Couldnt Care To Remember
Mechanic - Hideous
Hynes Rating - Demand Your Money Back!
Busstop and String Railways
Another trip to Japon produced two more games in multiple purchases, the first busstop, a simple race set collection game in the mould of Truckers 1.5 again seemed disappointing at first glance but once we ironed out the rules, it proved to be quick, charming and once again beautiful. The second String Railways was an absolute joy to behold, it does exactly what it says on the tin ... String Railways.
You set a perimeter with String, build a mountain with String, provide a river with String and then build networks with your own coloured string, scoring points for the stations you connect to and losing points for the strings you have to cross getting there. We loved it, we played twice, we will no doubt be inflicting this on you all for years to come!
Looks - String
Mechanic - String
Hynes Rating - String Genius
Our brilliant plan to get in early with passes blew up in our faces as Hutch had again prebooked all tables, leading to cries of "Abort Abort" as we tried to synchronise our efforts from totally different areas of the halls. I ran for ZMan (the last thing I heard Nick say before being cut off) Nick lost everyone and made his way to the last spoken location, Andy lost Julia and Stephen, they spotted the lost Hynes and began falling him as he wandered in Circles looking for them, oblivious to the fact that they were actually following him.
I fought off four Italians and claimed a table at Incan Empires, Nick rushed in to bolster my claim and slowly the group reconvened.
We were taught the game and instructed to play a short demo, which we did. I took an immediate dislike to the mechanic and found it to be an overblown and less enjoyable Titania, Nick was much more enthusiastic, Stephen began to agree with Nick just in time for the game to end. We squabbled about its merits, Nick considered a purchase but was perhaps talked out of it after both John and Nick 2, who had played it at another stall had come away equally uninspired.
Looks - Aztecy
Mechanic - Link/City Building
Hynes Rating - Probably Broken
That pretty much put an and to our Essen. Roll on 2011