New Games To Look Out For at Essen/Spiel 2015
The Internationale Spieltage, AKA Spiel, AKA Essen after the German city it’s held in, is the E3 of tabletop games. This is where the biggest products from around the world around get demoed and released. It takes place from October 8th to 11th, but the list of games and publishers that will appear has already been revealed. These are some of the products that will shape the tabletop landscape in the coming year, so let’s take a look!
7 Wonders Duel
7 Wonders is a card drafting game where players try to build the grandest civilization around a wonder of the world. Unfortunately, the game only runs well at high player counts, and 2-player 7 Wonders is practically unplayable. It requires you to awkwardly run a makeshift A.I. player for the other players to draft with. 7 Wonders: Duel solves this problem. It’s a stand-alone game specifically designed around a two player open pack draft style, which should be familiar to anyone who has played Magic: The Gathering. Instead of passing cards around the table, you draft by picking cards from an array spread out on the tabletop. It also introduces new military and scientific win conditions, unique build trees, and even new resources. It’s great for anyone looking to get a drafting fix without a regular gaming group.
Many Euro style games frown upon high variance game elements like dice, but controlling said variance seems to be a central theme of many big titles at Spiel this year. Dice City is one such game, which bills itself as a “dice builder.” Every turn you roll five dice of five different colors and take actions based on what sides are showing. Over the course of the game you can build buildings that change what actions you can take, reduce your variance, and earn you points. Special building effects range from re-rolling dice to destroying your opponent’s buildings. Earn the most points to win!
You are the mayor of a small borough of a small city. Get it? Your goal: get re-elected. Naturally, you can do this by improving the city, bringing in more residents, and expanding its commercial and industrial sectors, but it’s also important that you keep the promises you made during your campaign. It’s kind of like a board game version of Sim City with extra goals in the promises that you make to your voters. Get the most votes in eight turns to win the game, thus solidifying your political career. Small City is notable for both its political theme and its interesting take on victory points. It’s an intriguing departure from other “earn the most points to win” games.
Power Grid: The Stock Companies
Rio Grande games won’t be at Spiel this year, but one of their most popular properties, Power Grid, will be, under publisher 2F-Spiele. Power Grid: The Stock Companies is actually loosely based around a game module from another upcoming board game entitled 504. In this stand-alone game, you play as shareholders who are trying to gain control over different stock companies to make the most profit. You can also combine it with normal Power Grid to play several different variants, including one where you try to gain stock in companies that produce the most energy cities, and another where you control your own private company, attempting to make other players invest in you. Put together with other expansions, The Stock Companies offers 222 different ways to play Power Grid.
Tesla Vs Edison
Tesla Vs Edison may be the geekiest conflict in existence, and now you can experience it in board game form due to a recently successful Kickstarter. Tesla, Edison, and a bunch of lesser known inventors (since the game supports up to 5 people) are all looking to become the richest electricity magnate in the 19th century. On the surface, the game is simple, you bid for characters and then perform their actions. However, the actions you take are many and varied, and range from investing in alternating or direct current, inventing new electrical machines, playing the stock market, and expanding your energy empire. Characters also have different stats, which help support a variety of different strategies based on these actions. It’s easy to learn, but has a lot of depth due to its plethora of interlacing mechanics that borrow from bluffing, auction, resource management, and territory acquisition games.
Fusing different game genres together seems to be a heavy theme in the current tabletop market, and Discoveries is a poster child for such hybrids. It’s a pool building, dice rolling, worker placement game, and a sequel to Lewis & Clark to boot! You score points by exploring new lands, befriending Native American tribes, and discovering new flora and fauna. You accomplish this by rolling dice that represent your expedition team. Once rolled, dice simply sit in your pool and can be used to pay for actions based on what face they are showing. Once your dice are used, however, your opponents can steal them and use them for their own actions, increasing their dice pool in the process. However, you can use your turn steal them back and you can spend them without even having to roll them again. This creates an interesting twist on the “push your luck” style games where you have to use your opponent’s dice to get ahead, but relying upon them too much makes you vulnerable. Discoveries is also notable for its incredible art which has been called some of the best the tabletop market has ever seen. Non-English versions of the game are already in circulation, but you can expect the English version to drop in late August, slightly before Spiel.
Takenoko was an interesting game where you managed a hungry panda and a bamboo forest at the same time. Your goal was to move the panda to eat the right type of bamboo, or move a gardener to plant the right type of bamboo in order to meet goals and score victory points. Takenoko: Chibis expands this game by adding more tiles for your bamboo to grow on, more goals for you to strive for, and a brand new female panda to manage. If you ever manage to make both pandas meet, you can spend bamboo to have a baby, which gives you in-game bonuses and victory points. It’s a small expansion that doesn’t introduce too many new rules, but adds another layer of depth to an otherwise simple and enjoyable game.
Another subject of a successful Kickstarter, Exoplanets tasks players with building a solar system from scratch. All players are orbiting the same star, and they place planets in different orbital rings in order to gather resources and points. Players can use their resources to terraform their planets, create life, and even collapse matter into black holes in order to disrupt their opponents. Your goal is to have the most developed planets in the solar system by the time the universe ends, which, for Exoplanets, is in about 30 minutes.
Spiel is known for complex Euro/German style board games, but a few interesting party games manage to make headlines every year. Codenames is my party game pick for this year after its incredible showing at Gen Con. It’s a combination of Minesweeper and a word association game. Cards with words on them are laid out in a 5 X 5 grid, which acts as the minefield. The game is played in teams, and only one player in each team can see how the minefield is laid out. This player then says one word and one number, hoping to guide their team to picking cards that score their team points. The team that uncovers all their points first wins, but beware because you can accidentally score points for the other team, or uncover the assassin which makes you lose the game immediately. It’s fast, funny, and tense, and a perfect party game for as many players as you like.
Mombasa is a game that does everything and that’s why it’s so cool. It’s a hand management game, as the primary game mechanic is to play resources from your hand in order to take actions. But it’s also a bluffing game, because you play a certain number of cards from your hand face down. It’s also a trading game, as one of the actions you can perform is to obtain shares in different stock companies. However, it’s a resource management game, as you spend gold in order to pick up better resource piles off the board. It’s also a territory acquisition game, as taking “exploration” actions allow you to place buildings on a map that continually generate resources. Finally, it is an upgrading game as well, as each time you build a building you get another new resource that was previously locked behind it. There are elements of set creation, tech trees, worker placement, and more. It may be one of the most complicated games that Spiel has to show, and with that complexity comes a depth that few other games can match.
Pandemic Legacy is a mash-up between the cooperative outbreak fighting game Pandemic, and the strategy game Risk Legacy, where your actions in one game effected your actions in the next. This melding of mechanics turns Pandemic into a quasi-roleplaying experience. When a disease outbreaks in a city, unrest builds for the next game making it harder to cure. Lose a game, and your next game will be easier as the government increases your funding. There is even a deck of cards that you draw and play during very specific times in very specific games, each making you deal with new events that craft a meta-narrative around the gameplay experience. The rest is very much like normal Pandemic, so it’s easy to learn if you played the original. It’s worth a look, if only because it’s one of the few games in this new “progressively changing” genre, and if you like it then look out for a new “season” of the game to release in years to come.
Mysterium is a strange combination of Dixit and Clue. One player plays a ghost of a recently deceased murder victim, while several others play paranormal investigators with the ability to speak to the ghost in their dreams. The ghost can only communicate to the investigators through vague images, as represented by abstract art on cards that are handed to other players. The players then use these visions to figure out the details of the murder. Mysterium was a breakout hit at Gen Con this year, and is slated to release only a few days before Spiel. Expect it to absolutely fly off shelves shortly thereafter.
Colt Express: Horses and Stagecoach
Colt Express, this year’s Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) is a game where you play bandits staging a high stakes robbery on a moving train. It was noted for its amazing components which includes a 3D model of a train that players move their pieces on. Horses and Stagecoach is the game’s first expansion introducing… well Horses and a Stagecoach. Horses allow you to run alongside the train and move between cars faster. The Stagecoach also rides alongside the train and includes more loot and hostages to ransom off but is protected by a guard with a shotgun! The expansion also introduces whiskey, which powers the bandits! Nothing says game of the year like drunken thievery.
Ca$h ‘n Guns: More Cash ‘n More Guns
Ca$h ‘n Guns is a simple bluffing game that simulates Mexican stand-offs. Every turn you point your gun at someone else, threatening to shoot them if they don’t let you have the money. The catch: you only have a limited amount of bullets, so you have to bluff your way through most standoffs while saving your actual bullets for huge pots. More Cash ‘n More Guns introduces new guns, which fire in different ways, new loot cards, and special powers. Ever wanted to play a smoke grenade and flee the scene, seduce your opponents, or fire a gun with a magic bullet that can hit someone you aren’t aiming at? You can in this expansion. It’s nice to see that some more casual games are highlighted at Spiel this year.