On the treacherous art of comparing with a dash of the Spiel 2016 experience

We have returned from Essen, and as always, we are tired but happy. The scale and sheer energy of Spiel is something that can surprise even someone who has been an attendee for the last five consecutive years. However, this post is not about the fair in general, but more of a single interesting experience.

As always, while attending Spiel, we tried to have at least a moment to look at games that were not ours. Let me tell you, with two booths (one belonging to NSKN Games, and one to Strawberry Studio, our microgame division), it has not been easy. In fact, I can honestly say that apart from being the biggest Spiel for all of us yet, it has also been the most tiring. Miraculously, none of the core NSKN Team came back with a con flu, which I consider nothing short of a small miracle.

Despite having a lot of work, a lot of people to talk to, and a lot of fans and friends to see, I managed to get a bit of time off together with my wife, which we decided to use in order to find some interesting games to bring home and play, after we have slept for about three million hours or so. The ultimate outcome of the time we spent roaming the halls materialized in the form of a small pile of games, the best of which I will be talking about in another post next week. For now, I will mention only one.

A tiny bit of crazy before it all begins. Pictured: my lovely wife and yours truly.
A tiny bit of crazy before it all begins. Pictured: my lovely wife and yours truly.

Aeon’s End has been on my radar for some time now. To anyone who knows me personally, or simply knows my work, it should come as a small surprise. I enjoy card games, specifically ones with a deckbuilding element. I also like fantasy settings, and I rarely pass on a cooperative game. For those reasons, we stopped at the Indie Boards and Cards booth to play a few turns of the Aeon’s End, and to decide if we want to take the game home.

We sat down and started the first round: there I was with my lovely wife, another man that wanted to explore Aeon’s End, and one of the staff, who quickly and clearly explained the basics of gameplay, so we were making our first steps as Rift Mages in no time. When he mentioned that none of the personal decks are ever shuffled, and instead a discard pile is simply turned over to form a new draw pile whenever a player runs out of cards, I remarked that it is a bit like Mistfall, trying to solidify my grip on the mechanisms explained by comparing them to a structure that is more than well known to me – and to my wife. The answer came quite quickly: “Yes, but this game is so much better than Mistfall”.

Part of our amazing demo team is playing In the Name of Odin at the hotel.
Part of our amazing demo team is playing In the Name of Odin at the hotel.

As I was considering my options, my wife cracked and started laughing, and knowing that it will probably become apparent sooner or later (I was wearing the red NSKN Games t-shirt), I introduced myself and simply said that Mistfall and Heart of the Mists are my designs. For a moment the man seemed terrified, then his face turned red. He started apologizing, and I reassured him that I know no offence was meant, and that none was taken. Yet, there is a valuable lesson there.

At the NSKN Games booth we had both Exodus: Proxima Centauri, as well as Exodus: Edge of Extinction, and I’d have to lie if I wanted to say that neither Twilight Imperium, nor Eclipse were ever mentioned. People often asked how our own space 4X strategy compares to these two great games, and I would offer my analysis. If a question of quality appeared, I would simply say that I personally prefer the experience offered by Exodus. I stayed far away from saying that one game is simply better than the other.

I believe it's called an Exaltation to the Troops...
So, is everybody ready?

We all have our tastes, and we have the right to speak our mind. I’ve been asked multiple times to compare Mistfall and Heart of the Mists to Pathfinder, and I have offered a list of similarities and differences, not hiding the fact that I liked my own design better, if anyone asked about my personal opinion.

The world of board gaming is filled with excellent games, and it’s hard to find one completely unlike any other. Lists of “games that fired other games” are a common (and usually extremely lengthy) thing, and I think it’s great that a cornucopia of gaming goodness exists, allowing us to find games that are closer and closer to what we personally consider perfection. Hence, it’s simply impossible to discuss one game at any length without comparing it to others, and that’s great as well, as we can easily build clear images of the experience a given game has to offer.

essen16_06
Strawberry Studio booth brimming with life and gaming!

That being said, if you’re a demo guy (or gal!) for one publisher, it’s probably best not to make absolute judgements about games published by someone else. Simply saying that Game A is better than Game B may backfire in a truly ridiculous fashion (honestly, the person who presented Aeon’s End was really unlucky that one time), or – more often than not – alienate a potential newcomer, who is already a fan of a product that is deemed inferior.

Finally, and just to nicely wrap it all up, I want to say that it looks like Aeon’s End will make its way to my post about games I enjoyed that I will get around to writing next week. I don’t enjoy it more than my own design, but I do believe that it’s a pretty awesome game.

Indeed, our demo team did magic!
Indeed, our demo team did magic!
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