Spiel 2005 Report

by Moritz Eggert

It's that time of the year again…. A visit by at least one of the Westpark Gamers at Spiel is obligatory, this time we were three: Günther (legendary programmer of the St. Petersburg computer version), Andrea (legendary gamer and wife) and me (legendary loser of games like Intrige)…. Aaron had compiled an immense press list - since last year the acquisition of review copies of promising games has become a full time job while in Essen, and the time to stroll around and just look at things has become less and less. Still the magic of Essen worked its way. I have long given up trying to see everything, rather trying to spend more time with fewer games. Of course each selection is very personal and can never, ever hope to be complete. But this is what I did:

Saturday, October 15

Banana Republika enthralls the gals

For some reason I can never attend Thursday and Friday (this time it would have been easy with the press ticket - thanks, Brian Walker!), and I always end up at the crazily crowded days of the weekend, when all "gems" have already been sold for insane prices, and some inexperienced publishers have already sold out their stock.

My first game on the list was Banana Republika, a parody card game from Cahoona Isle, of which at least the "Schroeder" and "Joschka Fischer" card are already outdated after the recent election in Germany. The game is a majority game combined with the players trying to pass laws against a posse of corrupt politicians (and fellow players). I had time to play a few rounds - the first impression was that of a very chaotic game, full of "take-that!" card play, but we will see how it stands up to more scrutinuous play. Kudos to Cahoona Isle for being totally politically incorrect, a proud European tradition that we try to keep up as long as possible.

a closer look at Daimyo

I longed for peace and quietness, so I went to Red Omega Studio to see the designer of their new strategy game Daimyo, a game which looks a little like a tiny version of Knizia's Samurai. In fact this is a hard-core strategy game, where you play cards to recruit and move your armies (an interesting round-robin system makes you always take the cards that your opponents discard).

Piero Cioni contemplates being a Daimyo
This looks equally good for 2, 3 or 4 players, and the designer Piero Cioni took his time to explain his game personally. The game I watched seemed to be intense, fast and interesting.

 

JMcreative was next - we had just received their party/crime-game Im Schatten der Premiere and I wanted to talk a little to Jörg Meissner, creative head and inventor of already three games. He told me that they try to revive the long-dormant market for so called "murder mystery parties" with reasonably priced scenarios. As their game needs at least 8 people to play it might take a while until we can review it, but we will see. Good luck to them anyway!

Jörg Meissner wants Krimi Total

Zev Shlesinger from Z-Man Games was next. They had two interesting new "big" board games: Parthenon and Castle Merchants, as well as the card game Dungeonville, all look like they could be our group's cup of tea. Zev was nice enough to reserve a used copy of Parthenon for us, as this game seemed to be especially sought after. The booth of Z-Man Games seems to grow each year, so it seems this company is taking the right direction with their line-up of board and card games.

The Eagle Games booth (if you can call two square miles full of hundreds of people and huge gaming tables bursting with gigantic amounts of plastic miniatures a "booth") was as always incredibly busy. Eagle Games has just published Conquest of the Empire, a long out of print monster game from MB, and the long awaited Railroad Tycoon, so the buzz was huge. Even attempting to watch an ongoing game proved to be difficult, so Pat Braun promised us copies of these games when he comes to Munich in November for the Spielwiesn.

The don't build ships the size of islands anymore…

Hans im Glück was a must as always, and it was a pleasure to meet Andreas Seyfarth there, designer legend of Puerto Rico fame. Dirk Geilenkeuser told me of the troubles they had with the printing of their new Kramer game Hazienda (although the game was supposed to have a board printed on either side for variation the printer decided that the back looked cooler in black), but these could luckily be resolved in time for Essen. As usual they also housed a Carcassonne tournament - it's amazing to see how serious high level players tend to play this game - dropping even a marshmallow next to them would bring out a screaming fit! Dirk also told us that the Westpark Gamers are considered the "intellectuals" of the game review scene - a very funny description! Perhaps this is a call for more hard-core statistical analyses from Walter!

The Dragon Riders are coming!

Amigo is in an altogether different world. Press meetings are not held at their 4 square mile booth which dominates hall 10, but in the press rooms ABOVE the halls of Essen (yes, my friends, there are also halls there, and they are also full of set-up games for photographing but also "empty of people", as my Italian friend Allessandro Timossi used to say). Amigo is a strange mix for us - on one hand they have excellent card and board games like 6 nimmt, on the other hand they sell crack (collectable card games) to unwitting young children. Gesa Villbrandt - their head of press dpt. - was a bit wary of us. If she can build up some well deserved trust we might perhaps see their new game Drachenreiter, but of course only then. But thanks for the Coke! (and I mean the one with "ola" at the end).

Richard Stubenvoll loves unusual wargames like Marengo

At the Histogame booth I met Richard Stubenvoll, our new favourite game designer of Friedrich fame. He seemed a bit critical of the success of Friedrich and disappointed with the reactions at the fair, but I tried to lift him up with some positive words about his really excellent design. It was good to hear that he has some new games in the pipeline, and if they are only half as good as Friedrich they already deserve to be successful. At Essen he presented a simplified Friedrich variant for 2 players (scenario only) and the excellent US wargame Marengo, which brings fresh concepts to the old wargame genre - like Friedrich!

Martin Wallace - the king of the hill!

A "must visit" was also the booth of Warfrog - minimalistically set-up as always, but full of crazed geeks trying to work out the new Martin Wallace game, which unfailingly "delivers" each year, and not only at Warfrog. Surprisingly, Martin told me that he doesn't have anything to do with the new version of his fantasy game Runebound ("I hate the fantasy genre" he told me," I just developed the basic mechanics and let Fantasy Flight create the story and the world") and the Struggle of Empires based Conquest of the Empire variant ("Eagle Games bought the rights to Struggle of Empires, so they can do with it what ever they like!"). The Warfrog games seem to be Wallace's dearest projects, and he certainly has created several classics for them. I am already curious about his new game, Byzantium, which looked very interesting.

Anders Fager - he will give you hell if you don't buy his games

At the Udo Grebe Games booth I met Anders Fager, designer of the Hell Game. Luckily he didn't give me hell about our review of the game, as he certainly is very knowledgeable in all the tortures that exist in the depths of the Abyss. An altogether nice chap he even gave me a copy of UGG's new game magazine, which certainly looks very good and even has a fun game with Russian revolutionaries in it. The picture is proof of it!

Not being totally resistant to crack I also visited the booth of the History Channel game Anachronism (semi collectable, you can buy differently themed sets in which you know what you get). In this game you can have Dschingis Khan kick Jeanne d'Arc's ass, or many more combinations of historical figures. The game looks easy to play, with beautiful cards and with chess like strategies. I conquered three starter sets, and Andrea and I will certainly give it a try soon!

 

A lonely Giza in the press halls
Our friends from Funfactory games from Singapore had bought vast quantities of their first two games Giza and Dividends (the latter has already been reviewed on our site), and seemed very excited with their first visit in Essen. They went very professional ways in advertising and marketing their game, and one can clearly see that their games are beautifully designed as well. Let's hope it's not their last visit to Essen. But it was obvious to any visitor to Essen that Asian games in general are up-and-coming, as practically around every corner their was a Japanese, Korean and at least two Singaporean booth.

 

In between I had some time to talk to Brian Walker, my "boss" of Games International. After several troubles with his magazine he seemed on the up again, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to go to Essen. The magazine seemed to sell well, even too well for some people, but that's another story…

After this hard day I was glad to join Brian and some hard-core gamers from Atlanta at the famous hotel "Arouser" (or "Arosa"), where we had a chance to try out the new "buzz game of the fair", Caylus. The game seemed to be excellent, but our tired minds didn't quite grasp it anymore at 1 am in the morning (I know, it's not really late, but it was a hard day, as I said), so we didn't finish it. But intrigued we were….

We also wanted to play Lineage II, a Korean adventure game, but this was foiled by the fact that those Koreans had forgotten to give Brian an English translation of the rules.

Good night and on to…

Sunday, October 16

The first date was with Abacus games, but then I found out that they didn't know anything about this date, so it became a little awkward (Sorry, my fault. Originally it was planned to meet Michael Schacht there, but I mixed up the dates. Aaron). But I didn't leave without Bang! and Dodge City expansion, a card game that already has a very good reputation but hasn't been tried at the Westpark yet.

The always friendly Uli Blennemann at Phalanx games was totally stressed with promoting Phalanx' enormous number of interesting new and already published games, but as always was very helpful in telling me about the new games. We even played a game of Packeis am Pol, the new edition of the cute Pingvinas, where penguins try to flee the melting ice floes in search of fish. Uli won with a one point lead! The new game Mesopotamia looked very interesting, but Uli refused to give me a copy, as there was a slight production problem with the Essen batch. I got Alexander der Grosse and Go West instead, certainly not uninteresting games either. But the War of the Ring Expansion was sadly not finished in time - we can wait if it makes it even better than expected, folks! The demo game set-up already drew the crowds….

After nearly leaving with a game called "Aleksander de Grote" (the Dutch version of aforementioned game) it was off to JKLM Games and Markus Welbourne. At this point I was already careful with taking too many games with me, so I just took Celtic Quest and Fruit Bandits; I hope I didn't insult anyone with this decision!

Doris & Frank have few but very reliable games, so getting a copy of ArchiOptiMix was a must. Unfortunately Doris and Frank are always incredibly busy at their stand, so there was no time to chat.

Nearly accidentally I came across KC Humphrey from Sunriver Games, who presented - all charming Buffalo Bill lookalike - his really excellent card game Havoc - The Hundred Year War, which plays like poker on steroids. In fact you might find poker a bore after playing this game. I was lucky enough to be able to play a full game, and I can say that the French did NOT win.

Another must was a visit to Yahudo, the Japanese company who publishes an inexplicable and weird card game each year. As always Satoshi Nakamura waited with their new card game, Phantom Rummy. When we understand the weird symbols on the cards we will publish a review soon.

The Italian invasion has begun

Navigating hall 4 became a little difficult, as it was necessary to avoid the booth of Angelo Porazzi of Warangel and Peace Bowl fame. Dear Angelo, I have nothing against you and your games, but it is not the right tactic to constantly push the poor reviewers to write articles on command, even going as far telling them their review should be "positive" and translated into several languages and sent to there and there and I don't know what! I don't know about others, but this does rather put me off, even if your games are not bad at all.

Descent into the Underworld

Speaking of Italians, together with the Asian companies an Italian invasion was clearly visible. And both Asians and Italians showed a clear trend, which was also visible at the show: dungeon exploration games! It would be nearly impossible to list all games on the fair with a definite dungeon theme, from Descent to Dungeonville, Dungeon Twister to Gefangen in der Geisterbahn, dungeons were the flair of the month. As were miniature games - with one of the main trends being WWII themed miniatures, both pre-painted (Axis and Allies) and paint-yourself (Flames of War). The "Lord of the Rings" hype has somewhat calmed down, as was to be expected. The CCG was still going strong, but the TMG from Sabertooth was totally absent on the show, even though there were a couple of new miniatures. Also absent was Nin-Gonost, which has been called the Advanced Squad Leader of dungeon miniature gaming.

Keith and Carola from Hexwars - your friendly next door wargamer couple

I also visited the booth of Hexwar - newcomers to Essen - who presented their computer-play-by-server versions of classic old SPI games. Keith and Carola are friendly wargamers who treat their business and customers like a big family. If they carry on with their continuous development of new games I foresee a very bright future for them, as there are starving wargamers everywhere! Especially interesting to me was hearing about some old fantasy games like Barbarian Kings and Death Maze that are in the pipeline….

Guido Eckhof - the new Big Kini

A highlight of the second day was the visit to PlayMe and playing their first published game, Big Kini. Guido Eckhof, a veteran gamer who I know from my time in Frankfurt, has created a true gamer's game - challenging for geeks, but accessible to anyone. Our test game was very much fun and moved along at a quick pace. The reaction of the general public was very positive as well; when I left the fair Big Kini was still competing with the equally excellent Caylus for "first place of the fair" at the Fairplay booth.

Lookout Games presented their Das Ende des Triumvirats - unusual in that it is a game especially for three players, a rare breed. The authors had dressed up as Romans for the occasion, which looked very funny!

Navigating my way through the usual assortment of geeks, stormtroopers, Trekkies (fewer visible than ever!) and LARP'ers (more than ever) I spent the final hours of the fair chatting to friends. An astonishing number of people simply approached me after reading "Westpark Gamers" on my name card - to all those: thank you for visiting our site and appreciating what we do!

And see you next year in Essen!

And this was our booty (Andrea, Guenther and me):

Alexander der Grosse
Anachronism
Archioptimix
Banana Republika
Bang!
Big Kini
Big Kini-Erweiterung
a couple of Blue Moons
Byzantium
Cash'n Guns
Castle Merchants
Caylus
Celtic Quest
Daimyo
Das Ende des Triumvirats
Dodge City
Dungeonville
Euphrat + Tigris Kartenspiel
Europe Engulfed
For the People
Fruit Bandits
Giza
Go West
Gods
Havoc
Hazienda
Il Principe
Lineage II
Lucca Citta
Packeis am Pol
Palatinus
Parthenon
PartnerLink
Phantom Rummy
Shear Panic
Sushi Express
Wench
Zwergenzocken

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2005, Westpark Gamers