Post-Essen Gaming: What was popular at my event... (Chris Wray)
Every year, I invite everybody I regularly game with in Kansas and Missouri to “Essen West,” my small get-together where we play through the recently-released games. I bring back as many as I can in three suitcases from Essen; I have a few shipped in; and other gamers contribute the games they’ve received. This year we had almost 50 different titles, including most of the hottest games from Spiel ‘17. The crowd was smaller this year than in previous years, but we still had a couple dozen attendees.
We have a big spreadsheet for everybody to rate/rank the games they played, both at the event itself and in the days/weeks leading up to it. Everybody rated each game on a 1-5 scale. A “1” meant they didn’t enjoy the game, a “2” meant they were neutral, a “3” meant they liked it, a “4” meant they loved it, and a “5” meant it was their favorite game on the rating sheet. Everybody was only allowed to use one “5” rating. (The scale is a modified version of the one used at The Opinionated Gamers.)
So what were the most popular of the Essen titles? In order from highest-rated to lowest, they were:
1. Azul, Published by Plan B, Designed by Michael Kiesling. Favorited by 3 attendees.
2. Majesty: For the Realm, Published by HiG/Z-Man, Designed by Marc Andre. Favorited by 4 attendees.
3. Indian Summer, Published by Edition Spielwiese, Designed by Uwe Rosenberg. Favorited by 1 attendee.
4. Clans of Caledonia, Published by Karma Games, Designed by Juma Al-JouJou.
5. Dragon Castle, Published by Horrible Games, Designed by Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, and Lorenzo Silva.
Those were the consensus titles that seemed to be universally enjoyed. Azul and Majesty actually had average ratings over a “4,” and the others had average ratings at or over a “3.” After that, the ratings were sporadic, with most games getting a combination of high and low ratings. This group, on average, prefers light-to-medium weight strategy games. This group also loves trick taking games, but they don’t seem to have been impressed with this year’s crop of Essen trick-takers.
We also rated several expansions that came out at Essen. Among those, the most popular were (in order): the NMBR 9 Starting and Extra Tiles, Ticket to Ride Map Pack #6: France & Old West, the 7 Wonders Anniversary Packs, and Fabled Fruit: The Lime Expansion.
We also had several Gen Con titles and recent Kickstarters on the rating sheet. The most popular were (in order): Trickster (one of the highest rated games of the event), Codenames Duet, Clank! In! Space!, Indulgence, and Crossfire.
And Modern Art got a couple of plays with the new versions, and it was a top-rated game.
The most played games were Azul, Crossfire, Dragon Castle, and Majesty: For the Realm.
My personal favorites from Essen so far...
My personal top five from Essen are Majesty: For the Realm, Clans of Caledonia, Azul, Indian Summer, and Tagiron. The first four of those have a lot of buzz. Tagiron is a bit harder to find, but it is a small deduction game from Japon Brand that takes 20-ish minutes that I’m really loving. My favorite expansion so far is either Fabled Fruit: The Lime Expansion or Ticket to Ride France.
My biggest disappointment so far is Charterstone, but it might get better…
Me and my Charterstone group are not impressed so far. There’s been a lot of rules ambiguity, and the gameplay just isn’t that interesting. Worse, we struggled to identify the long-term goals of and framework for the campaign. We’re told it gets better as the board fills out, so all of us are holding out hope still, but Charterstone is off to a rocky start with us.
This is the year of the beautiful game.
Game publishers used to get away with sub-par art and production values. Even well-regarded games weren’t especially well produced (e.g., Age of Steam). But not anymore. If you look at all of the top titles above, they all have stunning production values, especially Azul and Dragon Castle, which have thick, chunky tiles that add to the appeal of gameplay.
It's clear, at least to me, that we already have some frontrunners for the Spiel des Jahres and other big game awards.
The Nuremberg Toy Fair will be later this winter, and at that point we’ll have a better sense of the Spiel des Jahres titles, but right now, my guesses would be Azul and Majesty have a good shot at nominations. Sdj jury members have said good things about both. After those two it gets harder, but Memoarrr! (which I haven’t played) seems like it’s been well received, and Photosynthesis checks a lot of the boxes, though I think it’s chances are hurt since it’d be a Blue Orange back-to-back. (Blue Orange won with Kingdomino last year.)
In terms of the Deutscher Spiele Preis and International Gamers Awards, at this point I’d have to say that Clans of Caledonia has a decent shot, which would be notable given its Kickstarter origins. (Games on Kickstarter haven’t fared especially well with game juries, though the DSP is more of a popular vote.) I haven’t yet played Heaven & Ale, but it has been popular with my reviewer friends, as has Gaia Project.
It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the Gen Con and Essen games.
A few years ago, all you needed was a few dozen titles to know the games that would have an impact. We had nearly 50 titles on hand this year, and we still had some wildly popular ones missing from the event (Gaia Project comes to mind). I’ve been on a two-week game marathon, yet I still have a couple of dozen unplayed titles that I’d say had a big splash at Spiel.
It’s going to be a great year in gaming.
What a series of games! This has been an impressive crop of Gen Con and Essen titles. I’m looking forward to the months ahead!
Chris Wray is a frequent reviewer of board and card games, writing dozens of reviews each year. In addition to writing for WDYPTW, he also writes for the Opinionated Gamers, Counter Magazine, and Gamers Alliance. He also posts reviews on BoardGameGeek, where he's listed as a golden reviewer.
You can find Chris at various conventions, including BGG.CON, Geekway to the West, Gen Con, or Spiel (Essen), and he often blogs while at the conventions.
Chris lives in Jefferson City, MO and works in government.