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Essen 2017 – Chris’ Heads Up



*sniff sniff* Do you smell that? That my friend is the smell of excitement which resonates in board gamers around this time of year. Yep, it’s nearly time for Essen Spiel 2017 where everyone finds all of the games that they never knew they even wanted, but suddenly do.

I mentioned in one of my previous reviews that my “first” Essen shopping list last year was over 50 games. This year I have been much more sensible and only (currently) have 21. What? OK, maybe I do have a problem. To be fair, I have already whittled the list down to something I can afford, but wanted to share with you some of the games that I had come across and thought were pretty awesome, and you may too. These are in no particular order by the way.

Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin:

Shinobi Just:

“Shinobi just takes place in the Sengoku period, the period of warring states. Behind the battle for supremacy, ninjas act secretly. Carry out your mission and block your enemy’s way to win a fame throughout the land!”

3-6 players in what looks to be a pocket sized game including social deduction and fantastic opportunity for trash talking. Not only that, friendly on the wallet too. Sadly, it didn’t make the shortlist though. Shinobi just seems to be scheduled for an Essen release so it’ll be interesting to see if it hits retail.

Shinobi Just

Untold: Adventures Await:

For most gamers, Rory’s story cubes are a novelty which are for kids. However, Untold could undo all of that. Here’s a brief description from the maker: “Untold: Adventures Await is the customizable storytelling game powered by Rory’s Story Cubes. Players become the heroes of a thrilling tale that unfolds in under 60 minutes. Think of Untold as your favorite TV series, except rather than just sitting back and watching, you’re right in the middle of the action!”

This one will definitely stay on my radar. I’m not in a huge rush to pick up a copy from Essen this year since I am certain it will be on wide distribution at some point afterwards. Keep your eyes peeled, you may well see a review for it after Essen.


Mystic ScRolls:

I love a good dice chucker. Even though dice hate me and we all know that lady luck can be a fickle mistress. Still there’s something rewarding about having your luck come in or be taken away at the drop of a hat. This Essen release sees everyone play as wizards using the dice to put spells together. It struck me as something a little different. Still didn’t make the purchase list though!

Mystic Scrolls

Not Alone: Exploration:

For me, this was an insta-buy. Not Alone was one of my Essen purchases from last year and is truly a great game since it’s portable but also plays up to 7. Point in fact, I have only met one person that didn’t like it. Exploration adds some more challenging nuances to the game and some other places to visit so you can ease yourself into the changes or go straight in with all new gameplay.



I watched this on Kickstarter and almost backed for a copy then. It strikes me as a gentler version of Epic Spell Wars where you’re enchanting items instead of trying to maim each other with crazily names spells. Quick, fun, and interesting.


Dice Age: The Hunt:

I think that the title of this one might give a bunch away about its premise. All of the players are roleplaying as hunter/gatherers for their tribe over 6 different hunting grounds. They also imply that there are many ways to win as opposed to being the most aggressive hunter. Definitely one to stay on the radar for a while. It is being released at Essen so with any luck will see a general release afterwards, and if so, I think I’ll snag a copy.

Dice Age

Perfect Hotel:

Smaller games tend to see a lot more play in my house. It’s easier to dip your toe in for 20 minutes than it is to get out a game which takes around half a day. Perfect hotel is a card game where the players are trying to put together the best hotels to score the most points, and the hotels are formed from cards. This did end up on my Essen shopping list along with another game from the same publisher which is below.

Perfect Hotel

Sakura Hunt:

The Japanese are very fond of their cherry blossoms. It’s no great surprise that someone has made a game about them; several in fact. This 2nd addition to my Essen shopping list see you trying to set collect cards to make the most beautiful panorama you can. The game sounds good, but the art is amazing so it was another one I couldn’t see fall to the wayside – nor could I wait to play it.

Sakura Hunt

13 Ghosts:

Artipia Games have snuck a couple of good games out for Essen this year and they have tickled my curiosity as much as anything else. Bear in mind my previous comments about small games, and you may be able to see what drew me to 13 ghosts.

13 Ghosts is a microgame for 2-4 players in which each player tries to find the ghost hidden in the opponent’s crypt. The game consists of thirteen ghost cards (provided in two sets for use in four-player games), each with a number from 1 to 13 and a special ability.

When playing, you use the card in your hand and you either play it face up to apply its ability or play it face down, thereby attacking your opponent by trying to guess the number of the ghost in their crypt. Succeed, and they are out of the game. As more and more cards are played and abilities are applied, players try to deduce their opponents’ ghosts and remove them from the game. The last player to remain wins.

13 Ghosts

Treachery in a pocket:

Artipia number 2! I am going to get a copy from Essen purely because I think it will see some good play when travelling and things, given it’s portability, also helped by the fact that my wife wanted to play:

In a medieval setting, four houses struggle for power and control using any means necessary. You watch from the shadows, working behind the scenes and pulling all the right strings, in order to ensure your allies end up in a position of power while your enemies are lost and forgotten.

In Treachery in a Pocket, players try to manipulate the position of various characters, according to their secret agendas. Using one of their four available actions each turn, they move the character cards up or down on their status grid, wounding or killing them if necessary. At the end of the game, the player who most effectively moved their allies to a high position and lowered their enemies wins.



I’m going to throw my hat into the ring right now and say that I think Noria is going to be the surprise hit of Essen this year. It’s a steampunk based game where you have a “wheel building” mechanic which is responsible for making your action selections for you. It has been designed by one of the Spiel Des Jahres Fellowship winners and looks to be pretty amazing. Sadly, it was priced off of my Essen shopping list. Still, if it gets a general release (which I expect it will) I will see if I can review a copy for your pleasure.


Medical Frontier:

I have always been a sucker for an unusual theme. Some people may well find this one a little dry, but I am definitely interested enough to buy a copy. Here’s what the game has to say for itself:

In Medical Frontier, players play medicine-developing researchers, and their mission is to distribute their own budget on different drug development projects to make new drugs. Players need to ensure the new drugs are safe and efficient in treating diseases, while keeping the side effects at controllable levels. Once you meet all of these marketing approval requirements, the new drugs can be launched. Will you save people’s lives while making most profits for your lab?

Medical Frontier

Mystery of the Temples:

Like my previous entry, this one sounded really interesting and looks artistically beautiful. If I can find out how much it is, I may well actually buy a copy from Essen instead of waiting for general release.

In Mystery of the Temples, players will take on the role of Curse Breakers, traveling between the wilderness and the temples in order to collect crystals of various colors. Fusing the colorful crystals on the Crystal Grid in the correct order will break the curse of the temple, and you will earn the runes and victory points in the process. Once a player has broken 5 curses, the game will end. Whoever has the highest amount of victory points will be the winner.

Mystery of the Temples

Raid on Taihoku:

This is by far the darkest themed of all the Essen games I have seen so far. It’s set in the midst of the 2nd world war in Taipei where they’re being bombed by the Americans. It’s a co-operative fight for survival. Deep stuff, but definitely intriguing.


Shadows in Kyoto:

There isn’t an abundance of 2 player only games and whilst some can be fantastic (I’m talking about 7 Wonders Duel of course) others can be a little bit sucky. As such, when some dedicated 2 player games appear, they always catch my attention. Shadows in Kyoto is based in the same universe as Hanamikoji and is a tactical game where you are spies trying to steal intelligence from the other player. I thought it looked interesting if nothing else, but time will tell I suppose.

Shadows in Kyoto

Mini Park:

Mini Park is a tile laying game in which each player is trying to score the most points from their tile placement. Whilst Essen is mostly about me (since I’m stumping up the money to buy all of these games) I do consider my family too. Mini Park is my family Essen purchase. Something we can all play and enjoy I feel.

Mini Park

Festival of a Thousand Cats:

Everybody knows that Cats are evil. Furry, conniving bundles of evil. With this in mind, this Essen buy was an odd choice for me. However, the artwork and the tag line was what moved me to buy it:

Cats around the world are always busy feasting! Their favorite delicacies for the feast are delicious fish — and of course you can’t forget about the booze. As long as they have delicious fish and enough booze, they are all very happy!

Ah, so I’m trying to keep cats happy through food and beer? Sold!


Alicematic Heroes:

My wife LOVES Alice in Wonderland so when I saw this, I had to show her. In a nutshell, the Queen of Hearts has summoned Alice to help her fix Wonderland after its devastation but accidentally summoned lots of them. As such each Alice is trying to put Wonderland to rights in the best way. This is done through some kind of area control mechanic, but I was more interested in the theme than anything else.



Another family game from Essen which is just itching for some mature innuendo. Each player is trying to score as many points as they can from placing their meeple on the edge of a board and being able to see the most topiary sculptures. Perfectly innocent unless you start to say things like “this is my Meeple, and I call him Tom…..”


Minute Realms:

A city building game in a really small box. I wonder if it will be a “good things come in small packages” or “I’ve just dropped a small package off and you won’t want it…” but either way I was interested in how a typically large box game could be shrunk. I’m hoping for a post Essen release for this just in case it turns out to be awful.

Minute Realms


The first thing which struck me about Altiplano is the llama on the cover. Having read the description it is probably the most complex of the games on my Essen list. It’s a “bag-building” game which is rated as a pretty complex 3.50 on board game geek. There also seems to be a fair chunk of resource management to it. I am definitely interested to see what the reaction from the gamers at large will be to this from Essen and beyond.


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Chris Dunnings

I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.

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