Reviewed by Joe Huber
ESSEN: THE GAME SPIEL ’13 (Geek Attitude Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 75 minutes; out of print)
Actually, while I’ll get to writing about the game, I’m going to start this review with the conclusion: you probably don’t need to even try this game. On the whole, it’s a perfectly acceptable set collection game that’s unlikely to be of sufficient interest to hold up for more than a play or two. But yet, having said that, the game is firmly in my collection, and I enjoy playing it once a year or so – so why is that?
Well, you see, I DID go to Essen in 2013. Of course, I couldn’t buy this game there – it wasn’t released until 2014 – but when I saw a copy, I knew I wanted one. Not because of the game itself but because the game included lot of the games I saw released there – and a few I’d missed. And the board reasonably represented the layout of Spiel in 2013 with each publisher reasonably close to where they were in the halls that year. So, in sum, nostalgia. Still, I had no idea how the game played. But I tracked down a used copy, and found out.
ESSEN The Game: SPIEL’13 is designed by Fabrice Beghin, Frédéric Delporte, and Etienne Espreman and played over the course of seven rounds. The game board represents the parking lot, the two entrances, the three halls with individual spaces for each publisher represented, the Galeria, and the outdoor connection between the halls.
Games are equally divided into four categories: Meeple games, Dice games, Card games, and Timer games, each of which has a certain popularity that determines some of its value. Half of the games start in play, and thus available for sale; the other half come out over the course of the game, and either negatively impact the popularity, positively impact the popularity, or have a random event associated with them such as a discount, coming with “Essen goodies” worth an extra point, or being sold out.
To help give players a direction, the game starts by having players draft their wish lists; there is a bonus for buying games on your wish list, and the possibility of getting more wish list cards during the game. In addition, three measures of popularity are set up (labelled BoardGameGeek, TricTrac, and Fairplay) showing different sets of games; having bought such games earns a bonus at the midpoint and another group of sets is then placed for an endgame bonus.
On a turn, a player has a number of actions: move a space, research to draw an additional wish list card, buy a sausage in the outdoor area between the halls for two extra actions, take out additional money, or buy a game. Cleverly, each game a player carries around reduces their actions by one. In addition, the player carrying the fewest games goes first in the next round. To help with this issue, players can go out to the parking lot to drop off their purchases, often stopping by the ATM at the time. However, there are two issues with taking out money: it costs victory points, and the tie-breaker at the end of the game is the player with the least money left over. To complicate matters, there are crowds in two areas each turn, slowing down movement.
After four rounds, the first intermediate scoring occurs, rewarding players for each of the popularity combinations they meet (either in their cars or currently being carried). In the seventh and final round, the crowds are always at the entrances, there is usually a special bonus for the purchase of one type of game, and there is a bonus for the first and second players to leave the hall though there is no penalty for shopping up to the last minute.
The second scoring occurs – requiring twice as many specific games as the first, but offering twice the reward – and player receive a bonus based upon how many games they purchased from their wish list. The player with the most points wins.
One of the best things that can be said about ESSEN: The Game is that the mechanisms fit the theme very well. You have games that you want to buy; you are rewarded for buying as many of them as possible. Three charts suggest which games are hot; you’re rewarded for buying those titles. Carrying everything around gets harder and harder. Getting a snack gives you more energy. And these really are the games – well, some of the games – sold at Spiel in 2013, in roughly the correct locations, and using the actual artwork from the games. But…
Which games are worth the most is mostly random; some games earn extra points, but while there is some correlation between cost and scoring, the randomness of the general scoring mechanism significantly impacts things. And the randomness of when games arrive – while not completely unrealistic – can make planning tricky. Hall 2 – the one hall not directly adjacent to an entrance – is often the least popular place to visit, as there’s no scoring advantage for the games there.
Is playing the game anything like shopping at Spiel? Yes and no. The need to drop games off and return is certainly realistic. Not knowing which games are the ones to get in advance is clearly true. But the feel of being there is not well captured – and out of date even when the game was released, as each year more and more of the Messe halls have been occupied. And as anyone who has been to a large convention knows, part of the appeal is the splendor of the displays; none of that is captured.
Everything is nicely produced. To determine the start player, “tickets” are distributed to the players, one of which is the press pass – and therefore the start player. It’s a nice little touch – the tickets aren’t used again in the game. There is some mild ambiguity about which spaces are adjacent to each other, but nothing which has cause any real headaches. The rules are – adequate. Not the easiest to sort through, but far from the worst. I do wish they had made the Galeria a single space, purely from a game interest perspective; it’s difficult to be so far away from the entrances anyway that the two separate spaces makes use of the Galeria rare.
As I said at the start, unless you went to Spiel in 2013, you probably don’t need this game. I did, and so it’s got nostalgic value for me, and it plays well enough to drag out once a year or so – preferably in October. I suppose I can picture this sticking out for someone who loves Spiel – it is the best Spiel-themed game I’ve played so far – but it’s no substitute for going. Well, I suppose it is for me – the crowds in the game are far easier for me to deal with than the crowds at the actual fair. But there are better set collection games around, taking advantage of the flexibility resulting from not trying to simultaneously recreate an event. Still, it is a nice attempt – and it works well enough for me to hold on to. – – – – – – – – – – Joe Huber
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