Report by Mike Siggins.
It is customary for me to start these annual reports with an assessment of the show - how did it compare with earlier years, were there a lot of good releases, how many people turned up, how many Rollamatic stands could you see, was it possible to breathe. And of course there is the strange phenomena of the Odd Year/Good Year cycle to examine. So what can I report from the land of compulsive smokers, rude hotel staff and crippling prices? Well, bearing in mind that this year was a little distorted because I was vainly trying to enforce some purchasing restraint, it wasn't too bad at all. Not a great year, but certainly not a poor one. Just a little average and lukewarm, but taken in context of the show as a whole this didn't seem to matter. Essen has become such a milestone, and is so much fun, that the lack of a truly excellent game or a clutch of really good ones hardly even bothers those attending. Nevertheless, I'm currently going with two or three outstanding games, a haul of around ten buyable titles and a generally positive feel. Odd Year/Good Year? Well, sort of still intact. And considering how many good games we've already had this year from Nuremburg, 1995 has been something of a corker. It's going to be tough to get on that Sumo list this time round.
Attendance could either have been similar to last year or somewhat higher, depending on how many people were crammed into the new large hall termed "Collector Card Paradise". I bravely went in a couple of times to rescue the poor exploited sods working for cards as Wizards 'Skeleton Crew', but was quickly overcome by smoke, body odour and depression. Certainly crowds on the Saturday were as solid as ever and the claimed total of 100,000+ was probably achieved once again. A number of traders reported sales similar or even down on last year though, so it seems the recession or slight dip in game popularity may still be with us. What was interesting was that a number of journalists and 'big players' proposed the view that gaming in Germany has lost its way somewhat. No-one really knows what to produce for the mass market, or whether it is time for innovation or a change of tack. What is certain is that on the evidence of Essen, the German hobby is still a hundred times more active than our own, underlying problems notwithstanding, and that the half dozen decent games we gamers can reliably expect have never failed to materialise.
I usually have little interest in the fringe events, such as the Interteam tournament or autograph sessions, that run as sideshows to the main exhibition, but this year I went along to the collector's meeting which was concentrating on cycling games. This was of interest because Mike Clifford was showing his Tour game and, as you may have spotted, I have a passing interest in the subject. My worry was that I couldn't see how they would get more than a dozen games to display and discuss. How wrong can you be. There must have been more than thirty titles, ranging from 19th Century parlour games to the latest simulations, and they were quite amazing. I had never seen The Eddy Merckx game (with 70mm high plastic riders) or Homas Spelen's Tour de France (three copies extant) and some of the older games were quite beautiful (but not playable I suspect). I detected only two missing - the Milk Race Game from England and The Peace Race from Czechoslavkia, though there must of course be more out there that we don't know about. Wonderful.
Notes: As usual, this is not a comprehensive list of the games at Essen. It is a mix of the games I either spotted, tried out or thought might be of interest to the readership at large. Inevitably I have missed some titles, but probably not many apart from the abstract stuff, which I leave to the experts these days. Prices where quoted are those charged at the show (£1=DM 2.20) and you should expect to pay more by the time they reach your table (but since an Essen trip is going to cost you at least £200, you can take any savings with a pinch of salt).
1x1's management gave me the biggest worry of the show. They had two new games, Zündstoff and Mogelei, which were priced at DM20 the pair if you were a press card holder. Once this news was out, just about everyone I know trundled up to the stand with a press pass and grabbed a cheapie. The poor designer must have thought the halls were full of hacks. Anyway, despite my impeccable press credentials, I didn't buy them as I had the chance to play them first. Zündstoff is nicely produced but really has very little to recommend it. It is a game about moving from earth to a distant sun to collect a pair of sunglasses (I kid you not) and involves negotiating a series of revolving planet tiles en route. Movement is achieved by cards but it is difficult to either plan your progress or wing it, and it drags interminably. I neither cared nor could think of a way to improve the situation. The second game, Mogelei, struck me as a sub-Cheat bluffing card game with added (but unnecessary) complexity and that worrying unintuitive feel that mars Doolittle & Waite - ie you never know quite which was round you are on the deal. Quick, but not for me. I should mention at this point that most everyone else seemed to like these two, some regarding them as a highlight, or was it perhaps that they liked the price?
2F Spiel, purveyors of Falsche Fuffziger and Wucherer, had a new card game called Foppen. With a good pedigree forming behind them, I was eagerly expecting another innovative system. Sadly, I was disappointed. Foppen is a very simple trick taking game that, to me, seemed to offer next to no play value. The general gist is that you follow suit to the lead, but if you can't, you discard and the player who lays the lowest card sits out the next round. There are jokers that complicate this slightly, but that's about it. This proceeds to the end of the round when you are penalised for any cards you are holding and the first player to go out gets the best score. Not at all impressed with this one, and although it was cheap I don't know anyone that bought it. Abacus have always been near the top of the report list, but this is an alphabetical dictate rather than based on merit. Since the flurry of big box releases a couple of years ago, we have had nothing but the odd abstract or card game to keep us amused. Frankly, I hope for more than this from Joe Nikisch who cannot be short of quality games to produce. I seem to recall he has Mr Moon's Airlines II on his books to name but one. This year we were treated to another minimalist game to follow the lacklustre Volle Lotte from last year. Olé is actually an interesting game for about thirty minutes but slides quickly back into that vast bucket of German card games that enjoy but a single tweak's advantage over the traditional classics. Who can tell the difference between the hundreds of trump variants released over the years and how many of them are better than their predecessors (for which you don't have to fork out £5-£10?) Olé scores with a clever adaptation of the suit ranking mechanism and also uses the 'rolling tricks' device which seems to be de rigeur this year, as with Traumland and Condottiere. In fact it reminded me a lot of Traumland's continuity, with suits changing all the while. The other clever presentation feature is that the cards showed different suit rankings depending on which way you held them. Not bad, quite playable, but nothing earth shattering.
Amigo had a selection of small card games including the impressive Hattrick which will be reviewed elsewhere this issue. Espresso is a more colourful re-issue of Ligretto, previously reviewed in Sumo, and is best characterised as multi-player Patience with Snap style cardplay. There was also a new version of Sticheln which seemed to be purely a cosmetic facelift. The final game that looked interesting was Twin, but no copies were available for testing.
Blatz had a good selection of games, but most of them were left over from last year. The three new releases were Reiner Knizia's Stonehenge, a two player abstract game, Reinhold Wittig's Nomadi and Schlangen von Delhi, which for some was the hit of the show. Nomadi can be quickly dispensed with as it the latest in the long line of Wittig simplistic abstract games. I can sum this one up as Billabong in the Desert with Dice and we gave up after less than a turn each. Schlangen however isn't at all bad. I didn't rate it quite as highly as some of my companions but I can see its merits. Basically, the board shows a number of snakes tails on a square grid. In your turn you can lay as many of your five snake tiles to try and score based on the length of the snake. You must keep the colour consistent and if you can attach a head to a body, or make the body enter a snake charmer's basket, you get a bonus. The added complication is that snakes can lay on top of each other by passing through tunnels, also depicted on the tiles. The game builds steadily until it looks like the snake pit scene in Raiders and ends when no-one can play another tile. As a tile laying game it is at least the match of Linie 1 and has none of that game's drawbacks. Well worth a look.
Dargaud, a small Belgian company, had a game called Gang of Four which is basically Career Poker. I have a game of the same name and theme published in Hong Kong [Ken: I chatted with Dargaud and they have licensed the Hong Kong game - same game, new (and, I believe, inferior) cards], and the Dargaud edition is designed by a Mr Yim, so I think we can safely assume it is the old Chinese game with a few tweaks. I now know of at least six variants of this game in print, including of course Garfield's bastard issue The Great Dalmuti, and I wonder which is the best rendition. Any views? Doris & Frank had Mü, which if the rules pan out as I expect, is one of the best card games since Was Sticht. Indeed it is also similar to that excellent game in some respects, but at the same time adds a couple of fascinating developments and plays much more quickly. My concerns are that at the moment we are going on the verbal instructions of Frank, which seemed to have varied slightly from group to group, so on subsequent playings there have been a number of queries. So much so that this scored second on the Argument Index behind DTM. The other reservation is the scoring system which seems a mite contrived and over complex. It is not, at present, a game in which you can look at your hand and evaluate it immediately with direct reference to your potential score, or loss. Whatever, these are points that will resolve themselves with the rules and a bit of tweaking or simplification. The game itself is an excellent mix of short suit trumps and novel card play systems. The game starts by each playing laying cards face up to bid for control of the game. The end result will, usually, be a senior player (who laid the most cards) and a junior player (who came second). The junior may choose the junior trumps and the senior chooses the senior trumps, which can be colours, numbers (a la Was Sticht) or no trumps, as long as they are featured among those revealed during the bidding round. In addition, the senior player chooses any of the remaining players as his partner (but not the junior player). Their aim is to collect enough tricks between them to score a specified number of points (indicated on the cards, similarly to the bulls heads in 6 Nimmt, but positive in this case). If they succeed the two partners score a bonus, and it is everyone elses job to stop them. However, each player is also out to score points for himself which gives rise to a subtle mix of selfish and unselfish play. This reasonably straightforward structure allows for a lot of intriguing options and clever bidding, almost all of which has a downside - the more cards you bid with, the tougher the contract and the more information you reveal to your enemies. In the same way, the cards laid for bidding at the start can also signal, as in Mayfair's Express, which suit or cards you are strong in. Excellent stuff, and if that wasn't enough there are four other card games in the box. At DM18, this was the bargain of the show. I await the English rules to allow a full review and proper play of this one, but I am confident there is something major here. It is such a pleasure to see a proper new card game like this, compared to all the re-hashes being punted elsewhere.
Eurogames were present with their sleeper of the year, Condottiere. I think there must have been twenty Brits and Americans waiting to swoop as soon as the price dropped, but it failed to move before we had to leave. Eurogames, famed for their swathing price cuts, held out at DM55 and seemed to be basking in the luxury of having a truly decent game to sell at last. Fear not bargain hunters, it will be cheaper next year, but for the moment they're going to milk it. And for those interested (and already playing) the official line is that a scarecrow card lets you retrieve only your own mercenary cards, not those of your opponents. Otherwise we are playing it correctly. Personally, I still have slight doubts over the 'gang up' end game but the rest of the game is good enough for me to declare this one of the best of the year, regardless of price.
Thomas Fackler, he of the hand crafted games, had a new release, Die Muehle, which retailed for a cool DM2,000. I couldn't get near enough to the stand to see the components but you can safely assume they are beyond belief. But at almost £1,000 it seems rather academic to worry about the standard of the game.
Franckh, as was to be expected, made much of Siedler's Spiel des Jahres win at the expense of any new releases or indeed a display of their range. I think I am safe in assuming that there weren't any new ones and even the much heralded 5/6 player Siedler expansion failed to show, to the disappointment of many. One of the rumours I heard was that Teuber was walking around the halls with the 7 and 8 player Siedler rules in his back pocket but that they didn't work. I'll tell you this for nothing Klaus, the 3 and 4s don't work either. And there is now some debate over whether the 5/6 expansion will show at all. An embarrassed manageress on the Franckh stand could not give me a straight answer and no date was hinted at. But surely all this could be solved (and, as a by product, open up a whole slew of variants) by buying an extra set and some extra wooden bits from IPUR? On which point, in true Franckh style, the Game of the Year could be found no cheaper than DM38, which is not exactly cheap, but for the many fans it must have been tempting to get a spare.
Games & Gadgets are a British company who had a stand at the show for the first time. They are responsible for importing a number of European games, including the number scrabble game, Zatre. They lead with their very successful Ransom which has been discussed on and off in Sumo for a couple of years now. Encouraging sales of the first edition have prompted a re-issue with better cards and more striking graphics. It seemed to sell well at the show and I saw quite a few people clutching copies.
Graham's Games were a refuge for the few British designers. They were showing Colliding Circles and Creepers, two abstract games which Richard Breese or Stuart will be reviewing for us next time. The stand also offered Richard's Chamelequin and Keywood, the latter selling out completely requiring Richard to spend several days sniffing Spraymount on his return. I've said it before, but if you don't move fast on this one the limited run will be sold out before you know it.
Hans Fries had a beautifully produced card game called La Strada, which unfortunately panned out as somewhat confusing and distracting in play. Again though, I was in the minority and a number of people bought copies (DM24). The idea was to construct buildings of cards, using the numbers to indicate the storeys, and then cap them off. Once you had capped two buildings, and got rid of your cards, the round was over. There are a number of special cards to destroy completed buildings, construct rainbow coloured buildings for bonus points and so on. The point system struck me as rather convoluted and this one went rapidly back in the box.
Hans im Glück are nothing if not reliable. If I look back at their releases I can think of only PS and perhaps Waldmeister as below par and even they were by no means poor. One somehow comes to rely on them, Moskito and White Wind to release something good or special to set a good foundation for the show. So it was with some relief that I walked straight to their stand on the Thursday morning, sat down and played El Grande, and left the table a happier man. This is a very good game indeed. To my mind the best at the show and looking like a title that will provide a lot of gameplay. I managed to get three games in over the four days and each was very different. The sole drawback is the price, DM80, which given the components and the target audience seems a little steep. Nevertheless, almost everyone bought one which speaks volumes. I will be doing a full review of this one for the magazine but for now, a brief description. To convey a simplistic overview, this is best described as Super Vendetta. You play a baron or similar in medieval Spain, trying to control as many of the nine provinces as possible. This is achieved by placing Caballeros (aka armies) into the regions and contesting them with the other players on a majority basis. Points are scored at varying times throughout the game for control, or part control, of the provinces. The game system itself revolves around the king and action cards. The king strolls around stabilising provinces and determines where caballeros can be played. The action cards are chosen in strict order from the five available and implemented. These vary greatly in effect but generally speaking they can move armies around, cause a region to be scored immediately, move the king, and so on. Given that the cards appear in a random order each game and, depending on the number of players, some cards won't be chosen, the game is going to be differenteach time. The result is a game full of short and long term decisions which really rattles along, and to the extent that you have a reasonable choice of actions, there are a number of strategies to pursue. Add in a number of clever nuances and you have a rather impressive game. The entire game takes about an hour (with the now common, "It seemed much longer" benefits) and you can play a longer game that takes around 90 minutes. The game is designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich and if I were going to be cynical (and why not), I would say that this in no way feels like a Kramer game and I wouldn't be surprised if he lent his name and development to Ulrich's efforts. It is tough to be this young and yet this sceptical. Recommended.
Hexagames had four new games, all designed or part-designed by Hartmut Witt. I failed to play any of these so can only offer third party views for now. We can discount one, a re-issue of the staple filler Koalition that now accommodates twelve parties and has new graphics, but plays much the same. The other three: Druiden, Odysee and Osiris, were what one might term middling efforts. Nothing much wrong with the games, but a little abstract and offering little in the way of incentive to buy. Most didn't but I await feedback from those that did.
Jean du Poel had his range of largely unfinished and therefore largely unplayable wooden games on display and one new title which involved flicking motor racing cars around a metre long polished wooden track. Subbuteo Motor Racing already, but not much fun. I have learned to tread carefully around this designer as even he seems unsure of the deeper nuances of his systems, so no purchases were made here.
Jumbo had a German version of Tom Kremer's very reasonable Game of the Year and a selection of other family games. The only game that might have offered something for gamers was Bloody Mary, which was not available for play when I went along to the stand. Can anyone advise on this one?
Kuhlmann is always an interesting stand, as he deals with historical games, spectacular productions (at a price) and usually supplies English rules. The fact that he usually rehashes Kingmaker into huge unplayable games should be quickly passed over. This year was especially profitable as he had a new game which could be very good; Kampf um Rome. The game costs DM69 and deals with the barbarian invasions of Europe. There are two games in the box, one designed by Hartmutt Witt. Both use the same area movement map of Europe, and look to be in the mould of Britannia/Civilisation. Production is impressive and there are coloured play cards, so I'll admit to taking a speculative punt on this one. Sadly we have to wait for the English rules, or I may try to get them sorted out here first. Fingers crossed.
Ludodelire had the new Suzuka Formule De track on display, complete with flying sumo cartoon. Looks good, but there is nothing special about the bridge and the track looks extremely curvey and tight. They were also selling a 'professional' Formule De kit which looked like a posh box containing ten of the little metal cars and some charts and tables with which to run a full championship season. Due to the language difficulties, I couldn't establish if any of this constituted new rules or not, and at DM20 I wasn't interested in taking a gamble.
Mayfair had a stand with their entire range but there seemed to be little interest in the Sim City card game. Can't imagine why. Despite this, Darwin Bromley was offering real money for photographs of European cities for use in expansion sets. I am surprised that they are even considering expanding the range, but perhaps sales to the collectible buyers are larger than I imagined. There is also quite a bit of positive news on the 18xx front, following sales of over 2,500 on each of the recent releases. One interesting rumour was the chance to combine four or more of the American boards to make a mega-18xx map. Should be highly playable; within a week with no trouble.
Moskito successfully maintained their role as a barometer to the convention with an interesting little game in the shape of Kunst Stücke. For two days I debated whether to even try this one as it looked both abstract and derivative; a sort of moveable Skirrid with a scoring system. Fortunately I talked myself into playing it on the Saturday morning and came away clutching a copy, as did all three of the other Brits who played at the same time. This is a rather clever game; quick, cerebral and loaded with strategy. Imagine a large square grid onto which coloured shape are placed. These shapes must be placed in accordance with strict rules on contact, but can be moved around later by paying chips. You start the game with a stock of shapes and a scoring pad onto which you will place face down scoring counters. These latter are similar to Was Sticht's tasks, except here you will try to achieve five tasks and also try to rank them in order of probable success. The tasks dictate that, at the end of the game, you need to have, say, 4 (no more, no less) white pieces touching to score that counter. As the game progresses, you lay tiles and build up shape formations and can, at any time, choose to delve into the scoring counter stacks. From this stack you must choose one counter and place it on your score sheet. Unlikely to do it? Then place it on the lower bonuses. Pretty easy? Place it on the bigger bonuses. As the game proceeds you try to maintain your scoring positions, but of course everyone else is trying to maintain theirs. If possible you 'lock' your position using clever tile play, and it is surprising how much a bit of sliding can achieve. Gradually, the whole board locks up and the game comes to an end when all your pieces have been laid or discarded. Original, interesting and a real challenge. The whole game is one of timing. Do you take the scoring counters early to get the best choice, but risk not being able to control the board? Do you spend your chips early to manoeuvre towards your goal, but risk someone else changing it back later? Do you lock in your shapes now, perhaps inconveniencing yourself elsewhere longer term? There is plenty here to think about and it has been a long time since I have enjoyed such an abstract game. Personally, I thought the end game stagnated a little with people poring over their turns, and I would have liked to have seen some attempt at applying a theme to this otherwise stark design, but the advantage is that it will easily translate to English. Or French. Or anything else. As ever, the price of this one is very reasonable at DM42. Recommended.
Piepmatz had Spacelab, a game that had been recommended to me by a number of German gamers. This is a black and white DTP production, in a small bookcase box, which involved your launching and building a space station. Component quality is perfectly adequate and it seems to have a number of interesting systems. When we have the English rules I will report back.
Piatnik had only a couple of new games, but both were good as one can expect from this consistent but underrated publisher. One of the games was New York, which I don't now believe is identical to the old FX Schmid game New York, New York, but I was told it was the same game at the show. So no, I didn't investigate this one. The other game, which most everyone enjoyed, was Leuchttum Architekten. This is a game in which coloured lighthouses surround the board, whose colours rotate. If you are holding a card that exactly matches the colour bands of a lighthouse, you can play your card and claim the points. Good fun, and very quick to play. I would have to check up on the exact rules, but this struck me as very similar to the old Perlhuhn classic Fotosafari im Ombagassa where the lighthouses are replaced by animals at waterholes. That in itself is no bad thing as that game has long been out of print and it was always a good, light game and ideal for families. Recommended.
Professional Motor Sport were responsible for the biggest buzz of the show. It started on Thursday morning as soon as people saw the stand and carried on to the weekend, though by the end of the show the discussion had fizzled somewhat in favour of El Grande. The game was DTM Hockenheimring, which as motor racing aficionados will know is the German equivalent of the British Touring Car Championships. Why the buzz? Well you get a huge tubed paper board with stunning graphics (not up to Formule De, but still damn good), six Herpa plastic cars (nothing can match these for detail and looks) and an interesting, if ultimately problematic, game system. The price? DM100 and yes, people were buying them - shops would have no problem selling this one. The justification seemed to be that the cars alone would cost DM180 on the streets, therefore it was a bargain. Hmmm. Most everyone rated this one highly, and some were saying it is better than Formule De (steady Tim), but not me. I would say that the sheer size of the map and the amazing little cars were blinding people to the slim merits of the game system, but I can still see the appeal. The race is run on a dual lane track using three dice: two d6 and a d6 marked 1,2,3. These dice are rolled and quickly put in play order, against a fifteen second time limit which at least gives some simulation of speed and decisions. Cleverly, each dice can be flipped to its opposite side, representing changing up or down in the gears. You then move, sequentially, the numbers left uppermost on the dice, hoping that you have acted quickly and correctly enough not to give yourself a penalty flag by exceeding the permitted gears in the corners. And most of the track is corners - no sixth gear straights here. If you should enter, say, a 4 turn with a six on the dice, you collect a yellow flag. Two such offences gain you a red and one more a black. When you have a black flag you must pit as soon as possible to 'clear' the penalties. This is where the game gets a little confused. The way I see it, the flags represent Tyre Wear or Brake Wear, which convert to time penalties that are scrubbed off in the pits. But the impact late in the race of acquiring a black flag, easily done by the way, is to take you out of contention completely. Add to this the fact that the designers don't have a clear rule for winning (ie does a player under black ahead of a player with no penalties come second?) and the ridiculous situation of needing to pit on the last lap and then complete a fourth lap, and you have a recipe for not only 30 minute arguments at game end, but 60 minute ones as well. Whatever you do, sort the last lap/finishing rules out before you start. All that said, the races are quick and quite exciting when two or more cars are scrapping, but a three lap race (at around the hour mark), the dice system and the almost inevitable pit stop for some of the cars means that races are seldom close. Perhaps a ten lap race would solve matters, but are you interested in that? I'm sure something like this has potential, and may even be some people's answer to the ultimate racing game. But it wouldn't be my choice - I see it as a triumph of style over content.
Queen had a couple of games that at least raised my interest, but like the Franckh releases of old, it pays to be careful with these expensive and somewhat iffy games. This year we were on firmer ground as Terra X is a re-issue of Ravensburger's Wildlife Adventure. There are some rules changes and a number of minor differences but broadly speaking the map is the same and the system plays identically. One wonders about the logic of selling this game at Essen for DM58 when secondhand originals were available downstairs for less. Their second major release was Totem, a game of early indian tribes trying to survive, hunt, procreate and gain magic. Reminiscent of Vallee des Mammouths, the game drew a mixture of admiration for the theme and systems and abuse because of the poor play balance - once a player got ahead, it was difficult to stop the win. This one may be worth investigating but would certainly need tweaking.
The Small Furries had a range of British games, from Gibson's, The Ragnars and the now extensive range from David Watts. They also had John Harrington's Breaking Away which is due to be released in a second edition.
T.S.R. had a large stand for the first time, no doubt lured by 100,000 odd punters potentially itching to buy AD&D and Dragon Dice. The latter is, believe it or not, a collectible dice game. But no, I am not going to deride it because on first impressions it has actually been properly designed and thought out. The rules are excellent, the dice are well made, and it looks interesting. There, said it. There are 72 dice out there, with rares (natch), but like Dixie you can play with just a couple of boxes. I have heard vile rumours that if you spend enough money you can stuff the game system with one of the colours, but for the moment I am happy enough to play it and see what transpires. Fingers crossed again.
Warfrog had sold out of their successful Lords of Creation boxed set by the Thursday evening and replaced it with their two new releases, Stockers and Sixteen Thirty Something.... The former is a simple family betting game based on stock car racing and has elements of Favoriten, Roadkill and Gibson's Formula Motor Racing. It is rather simple for my tastes and doesn't really improve upon Favoriten, but it got a generally good reaction from those that played it. Sixteen Thirty Something... will be much more of interest to gamers as it represents a novel and workable system themed to the financiers and powerbrokers of Thirty Years War Europe. I playtested this earlier in the year and saw enough then to know it will be a good solid gamer's game, possibly even an excellent one, and I'm eagerly awaiting a chance to play the final version. From reading the rules, the system is now cleaner and more varied than before, and hopefully fully tested. A slightly conditional recommendation on this one then for now, to be followed up by a full review, but you'll not be disappointed with this one.
White Wind seem to have acquired a loyal following. Apart from the quality of the games, there can be no other explanation for the armies of people buying their games in vast quantities. Whereas certain stands would be cock a hoop to sell a hundred of their new titles at Essen, White Wind shift several times that number over the four days. Alan Moon was grinning widely by the Saturday morning with two days of sales to go. There were effectively four releases this year but only one, 'big', limited edition game in the shape of Elfenwizards. There were also two unlimited edition card games, Tricks and Rainbows, and finally there was an additional set of cards available for last years hit, Phantoms of the Ice. Due to time pressures, I have as yet not played Rainbows but I can report that Tricks is a rather good card game in which you buy cards to improve your hand and Elfenwizards is an interesting slant on the negotiation and promotion theme. I played this at the show and will play it again soon, but I should quickly say that this isn't up to the creative standard set by Elfenroads, Santa Fe and Freight Train. It is however a good game in its own right, certainly better than Mush, and I enjoyed it more than Quo Vadis, from which it seems to draw its basic structure and idea. The challenge is to promote your faction of wizards through the ranks to score points steadily or hopefully become Arch Wizard on two occasions, which will win you the game outright in Kremlin fashion. Where the game scores over Quo Vadis is in the use of spell points to influence promotion, and this is what sets the game apart. In your turn you roll the dice to establish how much influence can be played on any of your candidates and these can be rerolled or subsequently enhanced by minor spell points. There can be a lot of scheming at this point and it takes a fair bit of juggling to get what you are after. My only worry is that with the jostling for positions and mutual back scratching, there is also inevitably negotiation. This is going to rule it out as a winner for some of my gaming friends, but as it isn't too onerous, I'm still looking forward to playing it again. Recommended.
Wizards of the Coast were again present in a big way, as you might expect of one of the most successful game companies in the world. They had a small presence in the main hall and a massive football pitch of a stand in the special card hall, complete with over the top Greek Temple. I have said all I'm going to say about Wizards and their spawn, and can only report on my surprise at the actual play of Magic, the game that has turned us all on our heads. I watched three separate games underway in the halls (I would say the ratio of those playing to trading was around 1:10) and in two cases, about twenty minutes was spent working out all the card combinations, arguing about rules and playing the odd card. Fortunately sanity was restored by my old friend Stephan Valkyser who was giving masterclasses on the Wizards stand, with a three deep crowd, and showed us how it should be done. Apart from that, Wizards had employed large numbers of British and German gamers to help out, many of whom I recognised as former Sumo subscribers. Having suffered an unprecedented drop in sub renewals in the last year, and tying up the names, I can see where at least some of them might have gone. I have heard about a flight to quality, but this seems to be the opposite!
In summary, I would say the standout game of the show was Hans Im Glück's El Grande with Kunst Stücke, Elfenwizards and Mü (as long as we get a good rule set) forming the guard of honour. You won't go far wrong with DTM, Schlangen von Delhi, Keywood, Sixteen Thirty Something..., Leuchttum Architekten, Olé, Tricks or Spacelab either. We await rules for Kampf um Rome and a play of Rainbows to see if they get to join the list.
Copyright 1995, Mike Siggins.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell