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More Essen games played

'London' was my most aniticpated Essen game. I like Martin's designs, i'm a Londoner - what could go wrong? The interaction, or lack of it, is I think the biggest problem with the game. The other mechanics are clever and interesting enough to make it worth playing however in both of my games there was little scope for negative drafting as players are focused on their own cities. In both of my games i went brown for money, then bought boroughs then went for a clean up. Both times i was paying for cards with some great brown cards, which were sitting waiting for me on the next round. Maybe with expereince players won't aloow one player to dominate one colour; however i am not sure how they could stop without clogging their hand up with cards that don't fit their strategy. Both games were also three player affairs and i wonder if it would shine as a two player where you can interact more through the drafting. Regardless of my views its been a phenomenal seller; from my limited viewpoint the biggest selling Wallace release for years.

I had read about the obsucre 2004 hit Tahuantinsuyu but not played it. Were 'Inca Empire' not a reprint (all be it with a couple of small changes and swish Zman makeover) i think this might be one of the hit's of the show. The network and building part of the game are straightforward, but the aim of feeding of other players networks makes for the most enjoyable gameplay. The aim is be as parastical as possible, while minimising the efforts of the other players to do the same to you. The other delicious part of the game is the sun cards which benefit you and another or harm your opponents.

'Habemus Pape' from DDD Verlag is a departure in that it is not designed by the Kuhn brothers. The standard of the game is just as high as previous releases ('Uruk' and 'Wiege der Renaissance') from this publisher. Over about 20 auction rounds players are trying to have the most influence over the election of the Pope. It's simple to play with subltly different routes to victory and has always produced a close finish

Essen - serial,rather than parallel

Last year I did the Essen releases in parallel - lots of game played once, and then the self same games played again. This year i have been getting to know the games one by one in some depth: -Partly because the pressure of work means i have not had neither the time or mental capacity to absorb new rules, and partly because i have enjoyed some games so much I have played them multiple times.

It's a bit early to pass judgement on the 2010 crop however i am going to stick my neck out and say. like 2009, its an 'average to good' year; with no 'bolt from the sky' new game.

The closest to a great game so far is Mac Gerdt's Navegador. It’s his fifth Rondel game and his best. I am have played it six times and no two games have followed the same course, mainly because the game provides a framework for the player's to engage with each and not with the game system. It’s a joy to be playing a game that demands you sepnd as much time looking at your opponents boards as much as your own and having to plan and adjust depending on the players to your left and right. The maimn cause of this is the market mechanism - which is one of the best i have seen on a boardgame because it lets you transact on both 'sides' of a commodity.

The complete opposite of a game that engages you with your fellow players is 20th Century. For long periods of the game players are self absorbed in their tableau micro managing the best placement of tiles. For me it's a complete turn off and a bore. Moreover it has a UK RRP of £50 which is extortionate for what you get in the box.

'Troyes', from new publisher Pearl Games, has a very interesting game driver in the use of dice. The mechanic is engaging and really requires players to use a different sort of thought process to progress. However, you are progressing along the well worn path of fighting off bad events, building a cathedral and secret bonus cards. Like 'Egizia' and 'Vasco Da Gama' from 2009 the mechanics make the game, and whilst that might make it a good game (one i have played five times so far) i wonder about its longevity.

'Grand Cru' is from new designer Ulrich Bluhm, is a fairly brutal economic game with a weakish wine theme; 'Age of Syrah' as one of my game partners quipped comparing it to Wallace's train game. The comparison is apt and i wonder if it's unforgiving nature has caused mixed reviews? The game is a procession of small, incremental actions that if got wrong caan cost you the game. There’s no catch up mechanism and if you make the (most common )mistake of incorrectly valuing a succession of tiles you are out before you started. I have played it three times, keep thinking about the game and want to play it more often.

When i get time i will post my thoughts on 'Incan Empire', 'Habemus Pape' and 'London'

Era of Inventions - a review by Neil Walters

This is one of about a dozen games I had earmarked on my shortlist of highly probables before I went to Essen. I had already read the rules online so I had a good idea of how it played, and a game about the development and production of inventions at the turn of the 20th century was thematically appealing and unusual as well. I’ve now played this game three times, a 4 player and a 5 player twice. All have been different and although there is nothing significantly new in the game play, there is a subtle re-mixing of the usual ingredients that gives the game a different feel that I like. The box advertises a playing time of 90 minutes and for once such a claim is pretty much spot on.

Era of Inventions is a game for between 3 to 5 players that uses that quite recent favourite and well trusted euro mechanic of “action selection” (“worker placement” if you prefer). Describing how the game works is simply done. You place two action tokens (three in a 3 player game) one at a time in an empty slot in one of the six action areas on the board. Each action area has two slots available, so twelve slots all told. You then carry out those actions one at a time in any order. Both activities are carried out in strict player order. In addition, players also start the game with between one and five extra action tokens again depending upon the number of players. One of these can be used at any time and in any area after a regular action. Apart from the odd bit of end of turn tidying up and preparations for the following round that’s all there is to it. In a sentence, stick your tokens down and do the actions. Which is actually quite a pleasant change.

The simplicity of the mechanics leaves you free to concentrate on the interesting bits such as deciding what your best selections will be bearing in mind what other players are doing, your position within the turn order and how best to manage your scarce resources. Turn order is important as first player rotates clockwise after each round. This means that the first player in turn one will be the last player is turn two, so there is definitely an element of forward planning required here, as actions that you would ideally like to take next turn will not necessarily be available. For me this adds to the challenge.

The idea of the game is to turn your scarce resources into a combination of factories (to produce different resources), designing new inventions (for mainly VPs or possibly cash) and producing the aforesaid new inventions (for VPs or cash). It is not sufficient to concentrate just on one of these activities alone, but equally spreading your actions too thinly across all three activities will likely dilute your overall potential. There is a finite number of regular actions in the game so you need to make them count.

Two of the action areas relate to factories, one to buy factories and the other that allows you to produce with all the factories you currently own. Two more areas specifically relate to the inventions. The first is the design area where you make your claim for one of nine different inventions ranging from a typewriter up to an aeroplane; the latter takes more resources to develop but earns far more prestige (VPs) as you might expect. Players can also develop a secondary (upgrade) of the same invention for VPs and possibly cash later on if it is produced. An alternative action in this same area is to buy patents for instant and possible end of game VPs and also gives some protection if you opponents produce fakes of your own inventions. Each invention is represented by three cards (two real and one fake) and once developed these will be shuffled together into the mix of existing invention cards for inclusion in the next round. This is where the second invention area comes in. Seven invention cards are laid out in the ‘produce inventions’ area at the start of a round which are available for production by any player. A nice feature here is that you will earn extra VPs if another player produces one of your inventions. However one of the things that you cannot guarantee is that your own inventions will turn up. This random element might bother some, but is not an issue for me.

As to the final two action areas, one lets you buy groups of resources for cash while the other is an exchange mechanism for trading up your cash and/or resources in exchange for other resources, cash, VPs and even additional extra action tokens. As an alternative to exchanging, you could just acquire a ‘development cog’ (required for developing inventions) instead.

Along with many other games, this is an exercise in efficiency and timing, and a very good one at that. I have seen a game won with loads of factories, and in contrast another where the winner has not bought or produced any factories at all. But for some reason Era of Inventions has sadly been lost in the plethora of new Essen releases. Some criticism has been levelled centred on games that people have played just the once with 5 players, and mainly around the assertion (misplaced I think) that players sitting in 4th and 5th position at the start of the game are at an acute disadvantage. While I don’t agree this is necessarily the case (two of my games have in fact been won by the player in 4th start position), I do think it is unfortunate that new designer Anthony Daamen advertised the game for five players. Had he stuck to a 3 to 4 player format and posted a health warning if you wanted try it out with five (much as Uwe Rosenberg did with Le Havre) then I feel Eof I would be getting a more positive press.

It is fair to say though that the five player version is a lot more challenging to play and less forgiving on mistakes. Here you have 20 regular actions total plus just the one extra action token, whereas in a four player you have 16 regular actions and five extra actions. Without knowing the reason why there should be such a disparity, it is clear that the four player version allows far more flexibility not only from the increased number of extra actions available but also because there is less congestion for available action slots. In three player with its whopping 27 regular actions and three extra actions, I suspect that the game is likely to be even more forgiving to play. I’m now really keen to try the game with this number.

A final word on the artwork and components. The graphics are a touch on the wrong side of arty for my tastes. The action slots blend in with the artwork on the board and could have been a little more conspicuous. For clarity, some of the colour combinations on the wooden bits could have been better (the white and natural colour resource cubes for example), but you get used to it after a couple of games.

These minor reservations don’t detract and ultimately the game’s the thing. As a Winsome season ticket holder for many years, you’ll know what I mean. Hopefully the above will give you a good idea of whether the game is for you. I’ve really enjoyed my games so far and I’m looking forward to playing again soon.

Paul's note : Era of Inventions was published in a limited edition English run of 500 copies that sold out at Essen 2010. I am selling the German version, will provide English rules adn as the game is language independent thats all you need to get playing