As the chill winds begin to lower our temperatures here in Louisiana into the upper 60s, that can only mean two things: time to cook some gumbo and time to look for the Essen Spiel releases.
That’s right, board gamers — it is Essen Spiel “Envie” Time!
What is Essen Spiel? The Internationale Spieltage SPIEL — or Essen for short, named after the city in Germany where it is held each year — is a trade fair put on by hundreds of board game publishers from around the world. Normally, about 150k board gamers are crowded into the Messe, but not this year. Thankfully, Eric Martin of Board Game Geek puts together a great GeekPreview each year, and 2020 was no exception.
But enough blather, let’s get to our Top Eight Games that We Have The Envie To Play Now (pictures courtesy of publisher website or from our Gumbo archive):
Publisher: Mebo Games
Designers: Paulo Pereira
Artist: Matteo Piana
Ages 8+ and plays 2-4 players in about 45 minutes
In the northern section of Portugal, there are rumors of fantastical creatures and apparenly the villagers are not happy about living close to them — the twist is that here you play as two of the monsters, trying to scare the villagers away from your homeland — who just happen to be sitting around a campfire in the woods outside your area — whoever scares the most villagers wins — it’s like a Portuguese version of Monsters Inc. — I like how the card play dictates how your monsters move and clear out the board one villager after another. And it has a cool power mechanic that’s triggered by playing cards that match previous cards you’ve played. There’s even some secret objectives that can really ramp it up, and Mebo put out a great little 4 minute video that tells you more about it.
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
Designer: Cyrille Allard and Frederic Guerard
Artist: Tomasc Larek
Ages 8+ — plays 2-4 players in about 45 minutes
I’m always on the lookout for good amusement park games. I used to love playing the original Roller Coaster Tycoon on the PC — the closest I’ve found so far is Steam Park and it is very good but everything else I’ve played hasn’t hit the mark. Can Meeple Land do it?
I like what I see in the artwork – it definitely reminds me of the Tycoon games — whimsical looking rides like the Pirate Ship swinger and the roller coasters. Plus you have to connect the paths to each other parts of the park – and you need to think about gift shops, food stands and bathrooms, too! One of my friends is a Disney Imagineer, and his first assignment was designing a bathroom in Animal Kingdom in Orlando — maybe finally I’ll get my chance to top him!
Publisher: Oink Games
Designer: Masato Uesugi
Artist: Hiroko Izumida
Age 7+ and plays 2-7 in about 20 minutes
One of my favorite genres is tiny box games that give a lot of game play in that tiny package — games from Oink usually but not always hit that mark — in this new release from Oink, players are all working to please the manager of their fruit stand, who just happens to be a big angry gorilla — the problem? They can see the inventory in the fruit stand, well all of it but the card that is in front of them, which only faces the other players. So it has that Hanabi / Fallen Angels deductive game mechanic that is a lot of fun if done well – paying attention to what each person is struggling with deciding what to add to the store’s orders is all the fun and it plays up to 7 people!
Publisher: Lucky Duck Games
Designers: Vincent Brugeaas and Guilhem Gautrand
Artist: Ronan Toulhoat
Age 10+ and plays 2-5 players in about 40 minutes
Sometimes the games we look at are games that we have not been able to get here in the United States. The Court of Miracles was apparently released in France last year, but it is just hitting our shores this fall. I love the theme: we are the chief of a krewe of rogues in Paris in the 16th century. It mixes a race mechanic in trying to get all of your influence tokens throughout the city before anyone else, but we also have to keep an eye out for the Pennywise King, because that could trigger the end game, too. I love games that do this — giving you more than one thing to keep an eye on for the ending! The board is gorgeous and I like the art that I’ve seen on the ‘net.
Publisher: Lookout Games
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Artist: Klemens Franz (graphic design) and Lukas Siegmon (art)
Age 12+ and plays 1-4 players in about two hours
Uwe Rosenberg returns to the farming arena, and this has been one of the hottest games we’ve seen talked about pre-Essen. (Here’s my chat with Dale Yu of the Opinionated Gamers all about his review.) Why is it so hot? Farming theme + hops + Uwe = a winning combination for most euro gamers. It set off a debate on the recent broadcast from Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules! trying to figure out the best beer themed game. Will this dethrone Brewcrafters and/or Heaven & Ale? We’ll find out soon enough as more reviews come in.
6. Cloud City
Publisher: Blue Orange Games:
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist: Fabrice ROS
Age 10+ and plays 2-4 players in about an hour
Blue Orange gets its second game on the list, this time with the compelling combo of award-winning designer Phil Walker-Harding (a Gumbo fave, especially of The Name Father) and tile placement mechanic (one of BJ’s favorite ways to play). Players are competing scoundrels trying to convince the Empire not to take the droid and bounty hunter to the Death Star…wait…that’s not right….they are architects trying to create the best city in this unique cloud world. I watched Rodney Smith’s video, and I love the look of the buildings and the walkways. There’s a kinetic energy that emerges from the way that they rise up in the clouds that is very inviting.
Publisher: DLP Games
Designers: Daryl Chow and Saashi
Artist: Takaka Takarai
Age 10_ and plays 2-4 players in about 30 minutes
Okay, I am cheating here a bit. Remember Our Trip has been bandwagoned by people like Suze from the Dice Tower for a year, but this Daryl Chow design has not been easy to get here in the United States. (Here’s Daryl talking about working on the game with famed designer Saashi on a recent Gumbo Live!) But that is all changing, because Remember Our Trip is getting a wider release from DLP Games as an English / German edition. Daryl calls it sort of a city building game where you build out the memories in your mind from a recent beloved trip. That’s such a cool and different theme; if Essen Spiel were really happening this year, it would have been one of the first stops on my list.
8. Switch & Signal (German edition only)
Designer: David Thompson
Artist: Claus Stephan and Antje Stephan
Age: 10+ and plays 2-4 players in about 45 minutes
The Gumbo chat krewe knows that I am always looking for good, family weight train games. Ticket To Ride, Spike, Game of Trains, Irish Gauge — the list goes on. If it has a train theme, and is fairly light, then I’m going to check it out. David Thompson (designer of War Chest and Undaunted) has a new train game for KOSMOS that caught my eye right away. It has the familiar pick up and deliver mechanics of other train games, but Oh how I wish I were still demoing for KOSMOS this year, because this is one I would have signed up to demo for sure. I wish there were more out on this game in English (the videos are well done but are totally in German), because this looks really good. And there is a twist — a cooperative train themed game?? Hmmmmmm….
How about a little lagniappe!
There are two expansions that we are really examining as we prepare for the post-Spiel releases:
First, Aquatica: Cold Waters from Cosmodrome Games is the sequel to the smash hit of Essen 2019, Aquatica. If you like card driven engine building games, you have to check out Aquatica (which has a new edition from Arcane Wonders). Designed by Ivan Tuzovsky, it is a very thematic underwater kingdom game that has that wonderful Concordia hand management mechanic piled onto engine building that is so satisfying. What’s the expansion about? Check out our review of the designer’s highlights from GEN CON here, but the highlights would be more cards, more players, more mantas and more creatures!
Finally, ERA: Medieval Age is such a fun roll and build game that really elevates the randowriter genre. But what it needs is more: more buildings and more dice! The folks at eggertspiele released a small expansion at GEN CON last year, but here is the first larger expansion, appropriately called ERA: Medieval Age Expansion. It adds a few new elements like roads and rivers that really changes things up.
That’s it for our look at the hottest games coming out around Essen Spiel. We whittled down 425 releases to this set of about ten games to check out. There are plenty more out there — let us know which games you are interested in and perhaps we can cover them on the show!
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo