The Great Essen Spiel 2012 Preview – Part One!

So we’re less than two weeks away from the biggest gaming event in the world, Essen Spiel 2012. The hotel has been booked. Flights are bought and paid for. I’ve even managed to get myself a brand new passport in double quick time after looking at my old one a few weeks ago, realised it had run out in May, and swiftly threw together a renewal application in the desperate hope it would arrive back in time (thankfully it has, having landed on my doorstep this very morning).

Ladies and gentlemen – we are ready to do it all over again. Over the space of four days I’ll be speaking with the great and the good from the world of gaming, putting together four shows straight from the show floor that will, on listening, *almost* be as good as if you were there yourself.

Enough mentions of the show though – Essen is all about the games, so which ones are really catching my interest this year? There are plenty of releases debuting at this year’s event, and once again I probably want to pick up far too many of them. Here are just a few that will certainly be making their way home in my hand luggage…

Snowdonia – Surprised Stare Games

This is the one at the very top of my list. Having played it at this year’s UK Games Expo in Birmingham, it’s a wonderfully constructed Euro that’s all about building a train line (complete with stations) up the side of Wales’ most famous mountain. However, don’t be blasé about it – this is no train game. In my sole previous experience of Snowdonia, the players picked up the rules in next to no time and were all drawn in by the speedy gameplay and cracking theme. Designer Tony Boydell has got plans for plenty of expansions (including one based on classic British kids TV show Ivor the Engine, apparently!), each of which will manipulate the rules slightly and provide a different game experience. According to Tony there’ll be a shade under 900 copies available at the show, and I have a feeling he won’t be bringing many of them home with him…


Suburbia – Bezier Games / Lookout Games

This one looks like it’ll scratch the city building itch in style. Again, I first became aware of it at the UK Games Expo after speaking with Hanno from Lookout Games, and after following the various updates that have been made available, I want it now. It reminds me a little of Sim City (never a bad thing) as players vie to grow their tiny town into a self-sufficient city – creating bigger and better buildings and facilities will see your population increase, and whoever has the highest at the end of the game will be declared the winner. Apparently playable in 90 minutes and coming with a single player ruleset too, this looks like a little winner. Oh, and there’ll also be an exclusive Spiel-only expansion too!


Le Havre: The Inland Port – Lookout Games

Right, with this one I’m essentially going in blind, but I have faith that Le Havre: The Inland Port will be well worth picking up. I am utterly awful at Le Havre. I’ve only played it on iOS and have never ever won a game, even against the AI. However, I have a feeling that I’m going to enjoy this two player only variant of its bigger sibling. Having fallen totally for Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small, I’m hoping that The Inland Port will provide a similar kind of vibe for gamers who want something relatively meaty that will play in around thirty minutes. Uwe Rosenberg hasn’t let us down yet… why on earth would be do so now?


Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar / Goblins Inc. – Czech Games Edition

A two-for-one from the guys at CGE. Tzolk’in has built up a decent buzz in the lead-up to Spiel thanks to its curious worker placement on an ever rotating wheel mechanism. As the large central cog spins, smaller outlying ones also move around meaning that some extreme forward planning is the order of the day. Definitely a game that’s trying to do things differently, here’s hoping the Mayans were wrong with their end of the world prediction, or else we’ll only have a couple of months to enjoy this intriguing looking game…

Goblins Inc., on the other hand, looks decidedly deranged. Who wouldn’t enjoy working alongside your opponents to build immense robots that are looking to bring about the end of mankind, all the while trying to sneak in secret elements that only you are aware of in order to impress the all-seeing boss of the goblins? A gloriously mental premise that will hopefully be a lot of fun.


Space Cadets – Stronghold Games

Co-op? Check. Space? Check. Designed by The Dice Tower Network’s own resident genius Geoff Engelstein (as well as his kids, Brian and Sydney)? Check. This one is going to sell out like no-one’s business, so if you want a copy I’d swing by the Stronghold booth early. Players must work together performing different tasks to keep their starship together; whether it’s using your sense of touch to track down enemies or building poker hands to improve your shields, you’ll only be able to complete your missions if the Captain manages to keep everyone on point. It sounds fun, fast and frenetic – bring it on!


Town Centre – AoS Team

A tiny game with a limited run using Lego 4-square bricks to build a city? Thank heavens I’ve pre-ordered a copy. Over the space of ten quick rounds, players will create a miniature metropolis of towering cubes – play well and your buildings will evolve and grow, hopefully scoring you more points at the end of the game (assuming you can get them powered up with enough electricity). With a playing time of around thirty minutes and (again) solo rules available, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Designer Alban Viard has said that this is part of a trilogy of Small City games, so I’m very interested in seeing what else he has up his sleeve.


Power Grid: UK and Ireland / Northern Europe – Rio Grande / 2f Spiele

Not a full game, of course, but an expansion to one of my favourites. I’ve long said that I want a map based around where I live, and now we’re going to get one! Not much more can be said about it – after all, it’s going to be Power Grid, albeit with a few rule tweaks and a bunch of New Power Plants – but this is one I really want to get to the table quickly. Wonder if I can get Friedmann to sign it…?

OK – that’s enough for now. Join me next time for some of games from smaller companies that look like they’ll be well worth checking out!


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