October is inevitably a good month for German games thanks to to the hundreds(?) of new releases at Essen. Word slowly trickles over to the States about the best, and in the weeks and months that follow the games trickle over as well.
What follows is my listing of what I think are the games coming out of Essen with the most potential. It inevitably ended up being a list of gamers’ games, not card games or fillers, no matter how deserving they might be. Some are actually reprints, or games otherwise being made widely available to America for the first time, but the main point is this: for most people they’ll be new.
I’ve offered up my best representation of each game, but I actually haven’t seen any of them yet (except Elasund), so I can’t guarantee accuracy, especially not for the “Like:” area. Feel free to add your own thoughts or comments below.
In halycone bachelor days, I was a collector. My bookcases overflowed with variant editions of Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft. When I stumbled upon one of my favorites with a different cover, I gasped, scooped it up, and ran at once for the cash register. Multiple editions of roleplaying books graced my shelves. I could adroitly explain to you the differences between every edition of Call of Cthulhu from first to fifth and I could even shake my head and sadly state, with quiet assurance, that there was never a Pendragon second edition, that Chaosium just skipped from first edition to third, with nary a backward glance.
As you might expect, my purchase of board games suffered from this affliction as well. I’d long noted the identical spines of the Avalon Hill bookshelf games, which fit together so beautifully on the shelves, but it was TimJim Games which truly fed my addiction. Like those Avalon Hill stalwarts, the spines of the TimJim boxes were equally designed to entice any obsessive-compulsive purchaser, but they also went a step further and put product numbers on the spines in very large, highly contrasted, boxes.
Often when I review I choose to talk about games that I like, to help spread the love and bring more gamers into the fold of my favorites. It’s a rarity that I specifically pull out a bad game to write a review about — unless it seems to be generating a lot of unwarranted publicity (or unless I’ve been given a review copy, which pretty much necessitates a review unless it was sent to me cold).
This week, however, I want to change things up a bit, and to talk about a number of the games that I don’t like, all of which are considered classics.
I like the Empire Builder series of crayon railroad games. Something about their freeform nature — where you start with a blank slate and slowly fill in that canvas — appeals to my right brain and makes me think that I’m really creating something. Beyond that the games have a neat puzzle-like feel to them, where at any time you’re juggling a set of three demand cards, each with three demands, and trying to figure out how to best and most efficiently serve them. Creativity & puzzles together define some of my favorite game design elements.
As a result the Empire Builder series of games is, perhaps, the only games that I played in college that I still play today. Dune, Dragon Pass, Hacker, and others now largely gather dust, but I play a couple of tabletop games of Empire Builder (or one of the variants) every year, and I play the Iron Dragon computer game with much more frequency than that (albeit with frequent swearing at the slow and dumb AI).
Unfortunately Empire Builder is dated. The original game was released in 1980 and though there have been a lot of neat new maps, events, and terrain types since then there have been very few changes to the basic game. As a result, the game is too long and doesn’t make good enough use of its components. It’s also too solitaire and it’s got some rough corners that any modern developer would probably smooth right out. Unfortunately, Mayfair doesn’t seem too inclined to change the game. And who can blame them? Based on the continual flow of Empire Builder variants I have to imagine that the games remain good sellers, and that’s something that you don’t mess with.