Friday, October 16, 2015

Essen in Full (with Wargaming, Honest) Part 1

Why should wargamers give a damn about Essen?  It's a board game show after all.

Well if you're a regular reader of my blog for a start, you know I love board games, and they offer a much broader feast than wargaming, even if they cannot match the latter for spectacle or the ability to represent battles and skirmishes in detail.

But that aside, being the biggest store-front for the wider hobby in Europe, arguably the World, major players in the Wargaming hobby have to take Essen seriously and have a presence.  We'll see them crop up as we go along, but especially for fantasy gamers, all the major players are there.  It is not a place for display games particularly (unless you count a twelve foot wide version of Catan), but rather it is all about demoing games.

Anyway, enough preamble.

Special thanks go to Jet2 for arranging something akin to an endurance test of a flight out to Germany, a 6 hour delay was at least compensated for by extended time to chat with the pretty passenger sat next to me (and in due course with a full refund).  German airports seem to have very variable hours of flying, and so eventually we ended up in Munster, some 120km north of our intended destination.  Eventually arriving at our hotel at three am, this led to a slow start to our Thursday morning - the first public day of the show.

Opening panorama, for room one, of seven...
 First of all, to misquote Douglas Adams, Essen is big, really big.  You might think it's a long walk from one end of Salute to the other but that's just peanuts to Essen.  Let me put it in context, the trade stand for Queen Games was larger overall than the main hall used by Pudsey Recon, and there were several major traders of a similar size.  The place was really just enormous.  We spent day one, of four no less, leisurely going around the various halls looking out for things of note and games to play.

One of the first things I spotted were these enigmas, that I've mentioned on the blog before.  Not available in the UK, my will to resist would slowly crumble...

Recycled T54 parts?
 Out first game of the day was Space Cadet: Away Teams, but it proved to be a disappointing dungeon crawler with little to commend it other than pulp styled models.  Moving swiftly on we managed to play one of the games of the show thereafter:

Art straight from 'Archer' it seems
 Codewords is a deceptively simple game of word association, that as a group was bought and played a dozen or more times over the week.  Great for larger groups and as a filler game.

Wondering around the huge halls on the first day I had to draw the attention of one - a massive wrestling fan - of our group to WWE Superstar Showdown.  Neither of us expected much, though I had heard if you wanted a wrestling game it was the one to go for.

Annoyingly, this turned out to be a fantastic game.  If thought of as a one on one skirmish or brawling system, it is really well presented and conducted, and thanks to ingenious card play and loss mechanics, really supplies the theme of wrestling in buckets!  I spent the next three days giving the stand a wide berth, to avoid buying the game. I am no fan of wrestling, but it was that good.

As stated, Essen is an enormous show, attracting 150,000 attendees, many attending for all four days, as we did.  None of these however seemed to be flocking around the Games Workshop age of Sigmar stand.
Tumble-weed not pictured
It was never busy, and seemed to come with an air of desperation throughout the week.  It is notable that at a show where people actively demonstrate their games, GW did not have a demo of AoS, 40k or any other of their in-house products available.  The Forgeworld stand by comparison was busy, not least as it was saving Europeans an enormous sum in postal charges to buy at the show.  By comparison the Warlord Games and Mantic Games stands both were busy, and both had demonstrations available to play.

both this and GW out in the sticks of the smaller massive halls
 Elsewhere there were were a variety of weird and wonderful skirmish games.  The expected such as Infinity, War Machine and Freebooters Fate rubbed shoulders with innumerable newer or smaller systems:

Steam Robot deathmatch
 Wolsung (?) was just one of many, with steampunk seeming to be a definite theme to many games.

Elsewhere some beautiful samurai miniatures caught my eye, if only for the paint jobs:

Yes, hand painted
 One of my favourite games as a nipper was Civilization, the original version.  IIRC it took up to 7 players and took about 6-12 hours to play.  Years later certainly the 'heftiest' game of the show was the new revised edition:

Wooden box
 More on this in part two, but this is a game with components numbered in the thousands, not to mention a board that looked to be about eight feet long, accommodation for upto 18 players and a full playing time measured in days, not hours.  Oh, and it was 179 Euros (about £140).

Osprey were there with their gaming arm, selling plenty of Frostgrave and showing off their upcoming Arthurian game and a game based on submarine hunting:

Um, C4?  Nope, wrong game...

 Both looked intriguing, but even more so was the large anime character on their back wall, what are they planning on next?...

Our last game of the day was The Bloody Inn; a French game about gruesome murder and hotel management.

The Monk helped me bury a corpse, the Gardner was having nothing of it!
 A neat little card game, strong on theme and 'Take That' mechanics.  It is however a pitch black theme and the card art won't appeal to everyone.

Chinese food, a mooch around the centre of Essen and an early night finished off the day for all, and we hit it early doors on the Friday.

First up was a run in with Kings Forge at the Game Salute stand:

Dice!  So many dice!
 This was to be my first purchase.  Kings Forge is a card crafting and dice collecting game.  To build the valuable objects needed to win you have to carefully select the resource cards to allow you to build up the needed supplies of dice; each player gets a chance to roll to create objects, and rather than first come first served he who rolls the highest combo of dice that make up an object wins it, so gathering resources effectively can give you a real edge.  Balanced by the destruction of resources to fuel cards or to make items, the game requires deeper thought than just chucking a pile of dice, and has excellent catch-up mechanisms.  40 euros (£30) got me the core game, two expansions and a completely separate card game - which given they offered me a wooden box first seemed like a great upgrade!

Being Germany it was completely acceptable to wonder around the halls with a beer, so I did.

Ah, beer...
 The social contract is such that no one in Germany would misbehave due to excess alcohol in a public place.  I don't think I did anyway.

The day rolled on, several of us were in full-on buying mode, and various other games were played; including Trains - a Japanese take on a Deck Building game with a a board game of railway building attached.  Actually pretty good.  Later the whole group reconvened, having split in two earlier and we agreed to go wait for one of the major draws at the show.  Mysterium.

Queues worse than at a theme park
 After an hour waiting we managed to hook into a game with a French couple, who clearly did better with the language barrier than we could've done in reverse.  Mysterium is essentially a detective game with one player (the ghost) handing out clues to the players in an effort to get them to guess who murdered the spirit's human form.  The clues come in the form of abstract cards, and the ghost cannot say anything to support his choices.

I proved to be a very good spiritualist
 The art in the game is beautiful, the game itself is essentially a cooperative version of Cluedo, but with so much more to it than that simple description suggests.  No dice, no movement, but a lot of fun and a real experience.  Worth our wait to play.

On last round of the hall and I spotted something I should own soon, the Ares Games reprint of the Conan Strategy game is due any day now, and the expansion is soon to follow.

 With lots of new games between us, we grabbed quick food on the go for the evening and headed back to the hotel, which like most in Essen laid on rooms for gaming in the evening.  Our Holiday Inn had two large rooms plus overflow space available and on the Thursday-Saturday nights these were both full with 30-40 gamers eying up one another's purchases.  We played Escape from the Temple, more Kings Forge and later a game of dubious aesthetic/ethical merits:

Maids - the game
Tanto Cuore is the sort of game that gets gekks that reputation we're often trying to shake off.  It's another Japanese take on Deckbuilding, but this one features anime artwork and a heavy dose of what in the genre is termed 'Fan Service'.  This was a fun game, with plenty of laughs within the gameplay, and a decent amount of thought involved, but the theme would certainly divide many.  It's one you need to know your partner would be cool with before bringing home and plonking on a shelf where - y'know - normal people might see it.

So that was days one and two.

Half way through the show.

Coming up in part two more games, more models, something that constitutes an actual wargame (kinda) is played; and perhaps much more besides.

No comments:

Post a Comment