The Essen Haul: 2015 Edition

Last week Andrei shared with you some of his impressions on games we played over an awesome gaming weekend hosted by Ania and Kuba of the Board Game Girl fame. Following in his footsteps, I take a turn talking about games not only played then, but also the ones I managed to experience over the last month. So, here it is: my best games of the Essen Spiel 2015 haul.

I was a bit regretful driving back from Essen. With only twenty-odd games in our trunk, I felt that there were some good games I managed to miss out on this year. On the other hand, with the workload we had between demoing games, I still consider myself quite lucky – and very efficient at maximizing he slivers of time spent outside the gaming pandemonium that was the NSKN Games booth.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of games I liked, in (mostly) no particular order.

01_DiceCityDice City

I must admit that my first game left both me and my wife somewhat flat, and a little confused. What looked like a must buy before Spiel, felt too light and a bit too random for both of our tastes. Luckily, the game would still draw both of us in to play again – and then a few more times after that – growing on us with every play.

Now Dice City is a small gem, which we have almost discarded back into the rough. Surprisingly sleek, with just enough heft to feel relevant, and with the simplicity to flow really nicely from turn to turn. And although we found a four player game way too heavy on downtime for what Dice City does, as a two player experience it is a tiny treasure, and a definite keeper.

02_NewYork1901New York 1901

Here’s a game that’s getting pretty mixed reviews among my friends and fellow gamers here in Poland. It seems that many people are unhappy with the fact that (instead of being a heavier game) it’s mostly taking the same spot as Ticket to Ride.

Personally I’m absolutely fine with this, as the only version of this seasoned Days of Wonder classic I own is the Android one – and I’ve played the damn thing to death. So, now I have the perfect entry level game which I can play. It’s gorgeously inviting, simple to learn, fast playing and a lot of fun. Say what you want people, but New York 1901 is a great game. And I am hoping to see more cities introduced as expansions in the future.

03_MyVillageMy Village

I’ve never been a fan of the original Village. The worker death mechanism some people seemed ridiculously excited about left me a bit cold, and the rest of the game seemed to me a mostly standard point salad with not enough bright spots to carry me over an aesthetics I found mostly off-putting. All this made me almost pass on My Village, and that would have been a big mistake.

Utilizing a fun dice drafting mechanism and (again) a death clock that sends our craftsmen to point scoring graves, My Village is almost everything I like in modern eurogames. From multiple ways of scoring points, to some extremely satisfying combo making potential My Village makes for a thoroughly delighting experience every time we sit down to rewrite the stories of our little settlements.

04_AshesAshes: Rise of the Phoenixborn

I already own and try to follow too many LCG-style games, so getting a copy of Ashes was something that really didn’t feel right there and then, as I was coughing up the cash at the Plaid Hat booth. To add to my anxiety, I had (and still have) kind of mixed feelings about the aesthetics of the game. On the one hand, I remain enchanted by the boldness of the clean white box and cards. On the other hand, I am somewhat disheartened by the art style, reminiscent of modern manga, and making for a vision of a world perhaps vibrant and interesting, but completely lost on a brute like me.

Nonetheless, I brought Ashes home, and after a few games I fell completely in love with the mechanisms, the design choices and important pubslishinge decision by Plaid Hat Games. An innovative and smart resource system (cool dice!), thirty-card decks (something I consider one of the best CCG and LCG ideas popularized by Hearthstone), and a current card play set right out of the box made me realise, that Ashes will be making itself comfortable on my gaming shelf.


I have a bit of history with What’s Your Game and by “a bit” I mean being successfully convinced by Vinhos that a set of tables thrown on a board, even thinly veiled by putting an outline of some country in the background (yes, I know it’s Portugal), and decorated with some art is probably great for gamers that are generally… well, not me. So, I had very mixed feelings about Nippon, a game that piqued my interest because of its theme (a very rarely explored time in Japan’s history, and the topic of my wife’s MA Thesis), and managed to keep me mostly away with its looks.

Now, while the art and graphic design of Nippon is – let’s be generous here – serviceable, the gameplay is incredibly solid and satisfying. Make no mistake, Nippon runs on an engine built with a set of mostly disassociated mechanisms, making it nothing more than a point salad. However, it is one of the best salads I’ve had for a very long time. So, once again, it’s a keeper, and one I would have most probably passed on, if not for Paul Grogan who visited the NSKN booth, gave Nippon a casual, but nonetheless glowing review, and by doing so, pushed me to make one of the best purchases of Essen Spiel 2015.

Champions of MidgardChampions of Midgard

Boy, is this game fun! Okay, it’s fun if you like light and fast eurogames (very much like Lords of Waterdeep), that are also deeply thematic (according to many, very much unlike Lords of Waterdeep), and if you can turn a blind eye to a few minor component issues. Still, Champions of Midgard is one of two games brought from this year’s Spiel, you’d probably have to pry from my cold dead hands to make me part with it. Nine games in, both my wife and I cannot get enough, and although we can now see a few warts (some of which may turn out to be actually features after a few more games), Champions of Midgard hits it out of the park.

The gameplay blends tactics with a bit of risk management, building on a solid foundation of classic worker placement. The player characters seem pretty balanced, while nicely different from each other. The length of the game seems perfect, the pacing keeps everyone engaged, and the balance between resource conversion and combat is spot on. Finally, the art is amazing (well, maybe not the way too crowded cover, but to each their own, I guess) and evocative enough to make playing Champions of Midgard a wholesome gaming experience. Truly, a well-deserved Dice Tower Seal of Excellence it is!

07_ThroughTheAgesSir Not Appearing In This Film

There are still a few games I brought but have not yet mentioned. Some of them will simply never be spoken of (as they underperformed severely, and are now awaiting their fate on the Trade Pile of Shame), some will be featured in future articles, and some… well, some are still unplayed.

As for games to be featured, I will devote a separate article to games by Splotter Spellen, with Food Chain Magnate making a deservedly prominent appearance. Epic and Star Realms: Colony Wars from White Wizard Games remain shamefully unplayed, as does Concordia Salsa – an expansion to one of my all-time favourite games, and something I’m crazily excited to play soon.

Finally, there is also one game that is a category in itself, and it’s Through the Ages: a New Story of Civilization. Simply put, that is the other “pry out of my cold dead hands” game brought from Essen, or (more accurately) a “if you pry it out from my cold dead hands, I will come to haunt your sorry arse” game. And to end my personal run through my Essen Haul on a very high note, let me review it thusly: it’s the good old Through the Ages in all its glory and magnificence… only even better.

You’ve read this far? Great! How about sharing your own Essen haul impressions in the comment section below?

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