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Paul’s Top Ten Board Games of Essen 2014 and Why!!!

The warm-up day…Make sure you book your place in advance!!!

Today  I’m heading out to Essen, Germany – to the Mecca of Board Gaming Festivals, the one and only Internationale Spieltage Spiel ’14.  Nigel, Jason and I are travelling on a Tuesday so that we can get there with time to get some rest before heading into the Essen warm-up day event!

At the warm-up day we’ll be able to meet and play with game designers and notables in the board gaming world, such as Rahdo and Tom Vasel. We’ll get to eat, drink and play board games with these people before the event has even opened!

However, before I head out to Germany, Tom has asked me to give you all a glimpse of what I think are the games to get at Essen 2014. Out of 800+ products on show, my list might surprise you, and my reason behind each selection should at least intrigue you!

Essen ’13…What were the results of last year???

Francis Drake Board GameWhenever I think about writing this kind of list I feel the burden of getting it right, and it’s heavier every time! You see, last year, the lists that were circulating would have included, Francis Drake, Lewis and Clarke, Glass Road, Rampage, Amerigo, Concordia, Madeira and Gear & Piston, to name just a few.

However, not included in these lists would have been Russian Railroads or Heroes of Might and Magic. However, many people came away from Essen 2013 with Russian Railroads and the reviews came rolling in professing that it was a really good game! Likewise, I don’t remember anyone mentioning Heroes of Might and Magic before the show, but they sold out on the first day and since then the game has not yet released in the USA and has very much remained under the radar!

Essen ’13…The reason this list looks the way it does!!!

robinson crusoe board gameFrancis Drake remained a very difficult game to get your hands on for nearly ten months after Essen ’13. My friend managed to get a copy from Essen and I was able to play it early on. I then had to wait a very long time to get my own copy. On top of that though, I still haven’t been able to get a copy of SOS Titanic, a very much vaulted solo or co-op game!

So, for me, these factors play a large part in the creation of my list! Basically, I’ve gone for games I think are going to be on top lists of every gamer over the next year, but games that will sell out at Essen or very quickly after and are going to very, very difficult to get hold of afterwards!

Last year it was Francis Drake, the year before Robinson Crusoe : Adventure on the Cursed Island. This year… Who knows!

Essen Number 10… Pay Dirt by Crash Games

Pay Dirt - GamesQuestCrash Games have been producing games that are getting better and better. Pay Dirt is an engine-building, worker placement game set in frigid Alaska for 2-5 players.  This game just looks so different to anything I have in my collection with a great hardship mechanism to spice up the theme. Crash Games are not prolific in their volume output, so I am going to grab this game and have a good look at Yard Master.

Essen Number 9… Castle of Mad King Ludwig by Bezier Games!!!

Castles Mad King Ludwig Board Game - GamesQuestFrom the publishers of Age of Steam and Ultimate Werewolf, comes the tile-laying game Castles of Mad King Ludwig.  One to four players are tasked with building an amazing, extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria…one room at a time. Both Age of Steam and Ultimate Werewolf have been highly successful games. I for one am not going to let this game pass me by and the fact that it can also be played solo is a huge bonus!

Essen Number 8…. Aquasphere by Hall Games/Pegasus Spiele!!!

Aquasphere Board Game - GamesQuestThere aren’t many Stefan Feld games that I do not like! In fact I find it hard to think of any that I wouldn’t play. This game is hitting all the hotness ratings on all the gaming sites, so will definitely be one of the most sort after games!

The AquaSphere is a research facility stationed deep below the ocean’s surface, and your skilled team — consisting of an engineer, a scientist, reprogrammable bots and exploratory submarines — is trying to gather as much data as possible. You can improve your lab to help you do this, but this costs valuable time.

I do wonder whether this one should have been higher up on my list, but there’s no going back now!!!

Essen Number 7… The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade by Z-Man Games!!!

Battle for Kembles Cascacade Board Game - GamesQuestIn The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade game, players fly through an ever-scrolling space setting, which is represented by rows of cards. Each turn, the bottom row is removed and a new row is added to the top. Players move their spaceships and resolve effects continuously, performing actions such as:

  • Collecting power-ups and money
  • Fighting alien cruisers and titans
  • Blocking and shooting other players
  • Dodging asteroids and black holes

The players need to balance the use of their ships’ energy as it’s used for both absorbing enemy fire and boosting their movement speed and fire rate.

The interesting title includes missions and achievements as well as a mechanism called the “threat level” to keep everyone in suspense throughout the game. Threat allows players to enjoy the satisfaction of both shooting wildly at each other and dodging the hundreds of bullets raining down from enemy fighters and other players. This looks a like a whacky game and something that is completely different to what’s already out there.

This one could go on to be one of the classics of the year, but of course the real test is in the playing of the game. No matter how it plays, I do predict that this one will sell out at Essen and will be much sought after going into 2015!


Essen Number 6… Star Realms by White Wizard Games!!!

Star Realms Card Game BoxStar Realms is a fast paced deck-building card game of outer space combat. It combines the fun of a deck-building game with the interactivity of Trading Card Game style combat. Check out my earlier review of this fantastic game here.

OK, OK, I know that this one was released in the UK six weeks ago, but just try and buy a copy!

This game is so hot that the only chance of getting your hands on one, is walking up to the White Wizard Games Stall and demanding that they sell you a copy! Oh and don’t forget to grab the expansions and promo card they have on offer too!!


Essen Number 5… Imperial Settlers by Portal Games!!!

Imperial Settlers Card Game - GamesQuestImperial Settlers is a card game that lets players lead one of the four factions and build empires by placing buildings, then sending workers to those buildings to acquire new resources and abilities. The game is played over five rounds during which 1 to 4 players take various actions in order to explore new lands, build buildings, trade resources, conquer enemies, and thus score victory points. The designer, Ignacy Trzewiczek, is on a roll at the moment, with recently published The Convoy receiving good reviews and Imperial Settlers being  based on his highly successful 51st State card game – it is one game that is going to be hard to get hold of after Essen!


Essen Number 4… Mythotopia by TreeFrog Games!!!

Mythotopia Board Game - GamesQuestMythotopia is Martin Wallace’s new deck-building board game set in a medieval fantasy world that draws on the mechanisms found in A Few Acres of Snow with players customizing their personal card decks by drafting cards and expanding into provinces. Yes you heard me!

  • Martin Wallace
  • Fantasy
  • Deck Building
  • A Few Acres of Snow

Based on those four simple points, this game is very high on the hotness lists and I predict it will be another Martin Wallace sell out game! If you don’t get this at Essen or soon after, you’d better put it on your 2015 wish-list.


Essen Number 3… Historia by!!!

Historia Board Game - GamesQuestHistoria is a civilization game for 1-6 players that guide their civilization through 12,000 years of human history, from the first sparks up to the development of Singularity. The game plays in at 25 minutes per player.

In Historia you have a set of action cards that’s available to the players to guide their civilization. When you use an action card, they form a discard queue from which they are taken back into a player’s hand during the course of the game.

Wars and raids are carried out in a non-disruptive way and when modern times are reached, or the Singularity technology developed, the game ends and the player with the most VPs wins.

To be honest, for me this slot was a close call between Historia and Fief: France 1429 but I’ve gone for Historia as there aren’t many civilization games that are card driven. Either way, I’ll be spending some time at the stand, I may come away with both games, but Historia is going to be one of my games of year!


Essen Number 2… Dragonscroll by Fragor Games!!!

Dragonscroll Board Game - GamesQuestYou are a dragonling. It is time to feel the wind beneath your wings and the scorch of flame in your snout. It is time for elves, knights, and dwarves to tremble; a time for orcs to have unhygienic habits; a time for arrogant wizards to be put in their place; a time to write your epic tale. Do well and minstrels will sing about your deeds for generations. Do badly, and you will not even have your name scrawled on the privy wall. It is time for your mighty deeds to be chronicled.

Fragor Games produce one game a year, with fantastic production values and they only sell them at one place on earth, yes you guessed it  – at Essen!

Each game is limited to only 1000 copies which have already sold out to pre-order. I will be picking up my copy and then trying to avoid all those people begging me to sell it to them. It’s a hard life sometimes, but if you can get a copy, do it!


Essen Number 1… Panamax by Stronghold – Mesa Boardgames!!!

Panamax Board Game - GamesQuestAfter one hundred years in service, the Panama Canal is still one of the most important and impressive engineering achievements in modern times. In the wake of the Canal’s opening, the designs of modern shipping vessels were influenced accordingly. Ships fall into three categories, those that can travel through easily and in groups (Feeder class), massive ocean going ships too big to enter the Canal (ULCV or Ultra Large Container Vessels), and the new standard – designed to the maximum limits of the Panama Canal… These ships are called PANAMAX.

Panamax, the game, is named after this Panama inspired ship class and has each player managing a shipping company established in the Colón Free Trade Zone. Companies accept contracts from both East and West US coasts, China and Europe and deliver cargo in order to make money, attract investment and pay dividends. At the same time the players accumulate their own stock investments and try to make as much money as possible in an effort to have the largest personal fortune and win the game.

Panamax features several original mechanisms that all blend together:

  • An original dice (action) selection table
  • Pickup-and-deliver along a single bi-directional route
  • A chain reaction movement system – “pushing” ships to make room throughout the Canal
  •  A level of player interaction that is part self-interest, part mutual advantage
  • The freedom to choose how you play

Panamax Board - GamesQuestOk this may be a surprise to some people, but if you read the beginning of this article, hopefully it will make sense to you. I predict Panamax is going to be the game that everyone wants, but only a few will have. It is going to be the Francis Drake of last year and the Robinson Crusoe of the year before. Dragonscroll and Panamax are the main reasons I am going to Essen!


The end is nigh!!! Thanks for reading!!!

So, there we have it! My ten hot tip titles to buy while at Essen. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts and have found it useful for selecting a few games that you might want to get your hands on before it’s too late!

Check back soon to find out what reviews we’ll be posting after our exciting trip to Essen!!!

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Paul Matthews

Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.