New Essen Games

Each year I buy a couple fewer games from Essen. This year there were quite a few that were tempting, but I didn’t buy too many in my first round of direct-from-Europe orders (and I should say that with the dollar worth so much less than it was just 3-4 years ago, things are not the deal they used to be). There was an interesting bit on record collecting on NPR (“Lost in the Grooves”) Wednesday in which one of the guests mentioned that in order to keep her collection under control and keep from buying everything, she had to have three reasons to buy a random record that she came across (they don’t necessarily have to be good reasons – cool cover art or an intriguing track name were OK – just reasons). We can now see if I can retroactively come up with 3 reasons why I bought these:

  • Reef Encounter: Appealing theme, Richard Breese is reasonably reliable for functioning game, limited edition which will probably represent a reasonable investment. Richard Breese self-published games are reliably decent but never great, so as a designer he’s right on the bubble – if this had been another “Key” game, I probably would have passed, but the reef theme sucked me in.
  • Ys: Well-produced, derivative from Aladdin’s Dragons which is a personal favorite, limited edition again. Really only one of those reasons counts for anything, but it’s a major one. This is one that I have genuine optimism for (i.e., it might end up hitting 10 plays).
  • Garten Zwerge e B – Truly bizzare theme, new company with an interesting lineup, bidding game. The game design itself is actually not unusual, but it’ll be interesting to see if the theme (breeding garden gnomes) is too weird for people. Game number two that I have genuine optimism for, actually.
  • Metallurgie – small (I need more good small card games in my collection), cool graphics & theme, by the same company (Argentum) that did the above and another interesting-looking game. This was a throw-in.
  • Telebohn – Wierd, I own all the other Bohnanza stuff, and, uh, it was cheap. I think that third reason doesn’t really count. But once you own 8 Bohnanza expansions, and the the last couple (Bohnaparte/Dschingis Bohn) were good, you feel sort of compelled to keep picking them up.
  • Sole Mio! – Again, small and cheap; and I was a fan of Mamma Mia! for quite a while before it just hit the end of the road and I never played again. I was hoping this might give me some enjoyment out of the game again, but it was probably a borderline call.
  • Revolution – I have great respect for Francis Tresham’s designs. I still play 1825, and even Civilization occasionally, so while this wasn’t a no-brainer – his best stuff is no less than 10 years old – I wasn’t going to pass on this. Unless it turns out to be terrible (very unlikely), it’ll be a decent investment.
  • Out of Africa – It’s a bidding game, cool graphics, and Phalanx is improving somewhat although I’d still like their games to be better than they are. I’ll give Ted Racier’s upcoming WWI game a shot, but these probably represent Phalanx’s last chance with me. If one of the three doesn’t hit 10 plays, I will approach their stuff with much more skepticism in future. I’ve cut them a lot of slack for games that just weren’t as good as they should have been, because the graphics are excellent, the games certainly haven’t been bad, and their hearts are in the right place. But that only goes so far.

I really like this whole “three reasons” concept, but obviously I’m still working on what it means to me. Either that, or I shouldn’t have bought a couple of those.

Stuff I would have picked up in previous years but didn’t:

  • Antiquity – Splotter is just too unreliable. Roads & Boats was great for a very niche game, but so much of their other stuff has been great concepts that they couldn’t take the last bit to a decent game. So this is a wait-and-see.
  • Im Shcatten des Kaisers, Mall World – I’ll wait for the English versions.
  • Candamir – Tempted. Mayfair hasn’t announced an English version, and it sounds reasonably internationalized except for the flavor text (but don’t quote me on that). I’ll hang on and see if an English version is announced sometime soon, but this will be a must-buy eventually.
  • Carcassone schlock – I’ve got The Castle and Hunters and Gatherers. How much more does one need?
  • Sea Sim – Again, Cwali disappointed with Logistico so they are no longer on my must-buy list. Another wait-and-see.
  • Razzia, Geschenkt, die Weinhandler – In my never-ending search for small-box games that last more than a couple plays, I’ll pick these up eventually I think.

Anyway, looking forward to giving a bunch of these a try (especially Garten Zwerge, Ys, and Revolution). I’ll let you know how it goes.

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GMT West 2004 – Wrapup & Game Purchases

I enjoyed GMT West this year as much as I have enjoyed any wargame event in recent times, with the possible exception of MonsterCon. The War Room at Origins, and ConQuest and KublaCon’s wargame areas do not exactly provide stiff competition admittedly, but still. I think I can credit this mainly to Roger MacGowan’s hosting skills and general friendliness, as he was bouncing around making sure people had games, but also to the general friendliness of the attendees – this was one of the best wargame crowds I’ve gamed with. I’d still ideally have liked to see Roger doing more, but the fact that there was somebody there at all helping people to get organized was, for me, a big deal.

There were GMT games for sale, and I acquired a copy of The Devil’s Horsemen (which I had ordered via P500) and Alexander the Great (deluxe). Why? I dunno. I am not Richard Berg’s biggest fan, and the Great Battles of History games are, at best, a decidedly mixed bag. But I genuinely liked Cataphract, and The Devil’s Horsemen seemed a game which had more in common with that than with the earlier, more unwieldy games – if nothing else, Cataphract has no skirmishers, which in SPQR seem to be more of a time-wasting device than a game mechanism. Anyway, it’s a neat period and I’d like to give it a go. Alexander was a less defensible choice. It’s the only game in the series I’m missing, but how entertaining is it to see the brilliantly-armed and led Macedonian armies slice through their opponents? I’d say “we shall see”, but this is likely a game that will sit on the shelf for a long time, so we may not. I’m already wondering what I was thinking.

I also picked up the new, deluxe, Paths of Glory map, which is great and finally dispenses with need to tote around plexiglass. I just wish it had come out 4-5 years ago, when I was still playing the game regularly. I suspect I’ll get back to it sometime, because it is a great game, but as it is I haven’t played in well over a year.

Anyway, all in all, I quite enjoyed the event, and can heartily recommend it to fans of GMT’s games. The hotel is a bit overpriced, but I’m told that you can find other better deals within walking distance, so that’s what I’ll do next year myself. If it’s still around next year, I’ll be there.

ConQuest

I’ve been going to ConQuest, a fairly large local game con, for a number of years now. In the past, I’ve always taken the opportunity to run a big wargame – I did a Guderian’s Blitzkrieg a couple years back (which was fun), and a EuroFront game last year (which was a disaster). Kim has run Acquire and Liar’s Dice tournaments for a couple years now. The flea market is also an awesome way to sell games that are good but that have just outlived their lifespan. This year, we were undecided as to whether we would be able to go as we were considering doing a longer vacation around Labor Day, so I didn’t sign up to run anything.

We decided to stay home after all and avoid the crowds, so I grabbed the event catalog. I was thinking to get in some of the new euros, maybe a game of Downtown or Sword of Rome or Ardennes ’44, or a small OCS scenario. Much to my disappointment, the boardgame event listings were not just thin, they were extremely thin. Virtually nonexistent, really. In terms of euros, there was almost nothing. The wargame end was slightly better served, but not much – too many pet games, not enough practical ones, and not enough games with serious GMs.

I came very close to not coming at all (one of my friends was having a rather tempting “ConQuest Sucks” gaming party), but I had a lot of games I wanted to sell at the flea market. So I went.

I ended up playing a few pick-up games. I got in a game of Maharaja, which I enjoyed. In a year of fascinating games plagued by balance questions – Goa and the Exploration Track problem (worrying, but probably bogus), St Petersburg and the Judge/Mistress of Ceremonies (definitely a problem), San Juan and the various competing ideas of imbalance (all probably bogus), Power Grid and the mid-game plant problem (definitely an issue), Memoir ’44 and its ludicrously unbalanced scenarios – it’s nice to play a solid game with no obvious question marks. But you should probably bid for starting roles. I look forward to trying the Yogi variant sometime.

I then played Fifth Avenue again. I will again mention a full review is forthcoming. It went over quite well with this group (while the general response has been quite positive among groups I’ve played with, for some people it just doesn’t click).

Last game before the flea market was Alhambra, by Dirk Henn. I’ve been critical of this game in the past, and while I did enjoy this playing (I won), I’m not going to change my tune now – one player in our game mentioned that it seemed to have the “illusion of control”, which I think sums it up pretty well. We did play with one of the variants from the expansion (the Viceroy, I think), which helped a bit. It’s slow, it’s light on decision making and player interaction, but I think in the end it works, if just barely. Not in the same league as Showmanager/Atlantic Star by a far cry, but it seems a game comparable to Carcassone – your less discriminating family and friends may be engaged by that illusion of control, it’s simple (more or less), some skill is still helpful, and it doesn’t hurt your brain like Fifth Avenue sometimes does. Not a recommendation from me, but it does fill a niche I think. If you want a little substance, though, Union Pacific scores over Alhambra in almost every way.

Then, off to the flea market. I love the flea market because it allows me to unload a bunch of middling-value stuff that is too much of a hassle to list on eBay, but ends up being worth a fair amount in aggregate. This time, I liquidated over $400 worth of stuff, so that was time well spent. Some of the games that hit the door included Dos Rios, Nautilus, Rückkehr der Helden, Anno 1503, The Cotton Kingdom, an old beat-up Storm over Arnhem, my old West End Paranoia boxed set (I now have Paranoia XP, which may or may not be an improvement, but at least is hardbound), The Two Towers Kartenspiel, duplicate copies of Kingmaker and Civilization, DAK (I now own DAK II, and despite what I paid for DAK I, I couldn’t quite justify keeping two copies given what I could sell DAK I for), some old surplus GW Lord of the Rings metal … and much more I can’t remember. Some of the stuff left over at the end surprised me … I had a very good condition copy of the Storm over Arnhem folio edition, but no interest. Arena Maximus, which should have appealed more to the ConQuest crowd, didn’t go, even at an aggressive price. Couldn’t liquidate Tobruk, even unpunched and at a $5 price point. The guy who I foisted off, er, sold my copy of Phalanx’ Nero too was back this year and bought a few items, so that was good. Maybe he never played it.

The flea market layout had changed from last year, from a large open court to a single walkway with areas on the sides. Even though I sold a lot of games, I was not particularly thrilled with the new layout, as my space was extremely tight, just enough for about 3 people to look over my games at one time, which is far less than in the past. I’m sure I could have sold most of the stuff that didn’t sell if people could have simply accessed my area more reliably; too often I had people backed up who couldn’t get in. A personal pet peeve is the guy who asks if he can check something like the Fellowship of the Ring Kartenspiel that I have listed at $5, and who then sits there, carefully inventorying the components, checking their condition, reading the rules from front to back … and then simply returns it to the pile without even making an offer. In the past, this was merely slightly frustrating. Now, with so little space, it was extremely annoying – but with all the games being used, I can hardly tell people they can’t review the games…

After the flea market, my friend Charles and I played some Gettysburg: Badges of Courage. I find myself waffling just a touch on this game, but I quite enjoyed this outing. Too bad we didn’t have time to continue to a second day, because it was an interesting setup. I initially thought using the Column optional rule might be an improvement, but now I’m not so sure. It is a lot of hassle, and I’m not sure what it accomplishes is worth the hassle (it slows down the Confederates on the first day, but it also slows down the Union at critical junctures too, so it might be a wash). We played without them this time, and it was quite satisfactory.

The bottom line on the con was that on the one hand, I did enjoy the games I played, and did pretty well at the flea market despite the lame setup. The kicker though was that I was playing almost exclusively pick-up games with people who are my regular gaming buddies. Fun, but there certainly was no need to pay $25, drive the rather wretched commute, and deal with nonexistent parking to do this, we could have all just met at somebody’s house. This is not why I go to cons. I go to cons to meet new people, recruit new players, and to play more organized games in interesting formats. ConQuest desperately needed more organized gaming, perhaps a Kniziathon, or at the very least a Settlers or Acquire or Puerto Rico tournament, some scheduled eurogames, and/or a reasonably well-coordinated open-gaming area. Not to mention some wargames with reasonable playing times and more than minimal player bases (the ASL event being the only solid event run). Without any of these, the only thing that will get me back next year is the flea market.

Origins Wrap-up

We didn’t go back to Origins on Sunday, instead staying home with Kim’s family and doing a couple games with Kim’s dad and our friend Mark. Wings of War came out again and was enjoyed by all. We also tried Maharaja, which showed promise, but seemed a touch thin with 3; I look forward to trying it again with 4 or 5.

As always, I bought a few games at Origins. Here is the damage:

  • Maharaja – Normally I would have waited, but Rio Grande was requiring a $25 purchase to get a copy of the Puerto Rico expansion, so I bought it.
  • FBI – same as above. Any game in which you play a law enforcement type wantonly locking up innocent suspects has to be good.
  • San Juan expansion – Although not a huge fan of the expansion, it’s nice enough and I’m glad to have a professionally-printed copy. That, and I got Andreas Seyfarth to sign it.
  • ANZAC Attack – The new Lock ‘n Load expansion. Haven’t had a chance to dive into it yet, but I like the new counter style. Whatever happened to names like “Crescendo of Doom”, though? ANZAC Attack? That’s pretty weak.
  • Wings of War – After enjoying my demo with the FFG folks, I had to pick this one up, perhaps because I really didn’t expect to like it. This rates as my “find” of the con, the game I probably wouldn’t have otherwise played, but enjoyed quite a bit.
  • Doom Cubes – One vendor had some Doom Cubes for Dicemaster at $3 a box, so I cleaned them out. I think that was 4 boxes.
  • Victoria Cross – This is a new block game covering the ever-challenging battle at Rorke’s Drift, and is published by Worthington Games, a new company. It qualified as my speculative purchase. It looks short-ish, simple, and people were having fun with it. I look forward to playing it, but it is an unknown.
  • Time Agent – Actually not a new purchase, but Tom Lehmann had donated large quantities of old games to the prize table at The Gathering, and Mark picked up a copy for us. Of all the old TimJim/Prism stuff, this is the one I was most interested in going back to give another shot. If I get one play out of it, that’ll be OK.

Not bad. I was proud of myself, in previous years I would have bought GMT’s new Downtown, which looks rather cool, but the insanely lengthy rulebook drove me away. I was also sorely tempted by MMP’s ASL Starter Kit, which I saw a surprising number of people carrying around, and For King And Country, but I easily resisted even with their convention discount. I also had little trouble resisting buying any old games (Russian Front was the closest call, and it wasn’t really that close), as better deals can be found on eBay. Crazy Egor’s pricing “strategy” is, well, pretty crazy. And I never play those games anyway. I’m still trying to fit in Air Assault on Crete and/or Invasion of Malta sometime, and it doesn’t look likely. I also resisted buying a promotional miniature for Mongoose’s new Babylon 5 space combat miniatures game, or any RPG sourcebooks at all. I also didn’t buy any dice, even though there were some very cool-looking ones.

Hey, being able to resist buying games I am never going to play is a moral victory for me.

Leaving Origins is always slightly sad. While this was not my best Origins ever, compared to going to work every day, it’s a big improvement. I could easily have used another few days of Origins before going home.

Still, all told, there were enough disappointments this year to require some questions be answered before going next year. The two MECCG events are usually the highlights of the con for me, and with one falling through and one being awkward this year, that was a real hit. Fortunately, both should be back next year.

The sad state of affairs in the War Room was expected, but still unfortunate. I think, though, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. Next year, I promise to run two events. The four choices I’m seriously considering are Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Lock ‘n Load, Europe Engulfed, and Wizard Kings. I suspect Europe Engulfed will be too time-consuming given I like other games, so I suspect I’ll be going with a single-elim Hannibal event and a Swiss Lock ‘n Load. Both should be doable in a 6-8 hour slot, with some time discipline. More details will be forthcoming. If you would attend such an event, please let me know and give me some feedback on time slots you’d prefer. If I think of anything else good I might run, maybe I’ll do another poll.

The final disappointment was, of course, the cancellation of the one Amorphous Blob RPG event I had signed up for. This was just bad luck, but the lesson here is to sign up for two.

In the end, we decided we’d be back, most likely, although the final decision will wait to see if I can pull together my events, and also until we get our pre-reg booklets and see what things look like. It’s not as easy as in the old days to just show up, fill your schedule, and have a good time. But on balance, there is a huge amount of good stuff at Origins, and as a gamer it’s hard to miss.

More new additions and a couple subtractions

A new Adam Spielt order came in the other day:

Flaschenteufel – another truly bizzare trick-taking game from the guys who brought us Twilight/Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, I played this in its original edition and enjoyed it, so I picked it up.
Dschengis Bohn – I liked Bohnaparte, it was cheap, and I own every other Bohnanza expansion, so why stop now?
Die Fugger and Zauberschwert & Drachenei – Usually I won’t bother with Adlung’s stuff, because I think it’s too expensive in the US. But whenever I put in an Adam Spielt order, I’m always tempted to pick up one or two since they’re so cheap. I’m usually disappointed, but hey, I remain optimistic, in memory of Verrater I suppose. These two look OK.
Schwartzarbeit – I really liked Andrea Meyer’s ad acta, and anytime a small-press company impresses me with their first outing, the second game becomes a mandatory purchase. This looks weird enough that I’ll love it but probably not get enough chance to play it.
Furio – Another small-press game with an interesting theme (for those of us in California).
Rückkehr der Helden – when I saw it was clearly inspired, or at least informed by, Magic Realm, it had to be mine! Looks cool but will it be good enough to be a repeat draw? After going through the rules, it’s hard to say.
Urland expansion – I like Urland, the expansion was cheap, and the base game could use some more genes. Looking forward to playing it, but Urland doesn’t come out a whole lot any more.
Yellowstone Park – By all counts this will disappoint, but you never know, and we recently had a very nice trip to Yellowstone, so it was my one purchase which I suspect was probably ill-advised but I went with anyway.

A few more new items:
Age of Napoleon – That last play convinced me to pick up a copy of this.
Minbari Federation Sourcebook – Another new book in Mongoose B5 line. I felt guilty picking it up because I don’t know how likely it is I will ever play, but it’s a good and entertaining read anyway. The section on the US RDA of Vitamins and Minerals for Minbari might have been over the top.

And going, going, gone:
Dark Tower – Kim had a copy of this in her attic back in Columbus, which her parents recently sent to us. I was actually initially reluctant to sell it for nostalgia purposes, but Kim was insistent. I played a couple games with the tower to test it out, and I was bored almost immediately … so it hit eBay right away. It’s not a terrible game for sure, but it’s hardly worthy of mention today. Except that the going rate for a copy seems to be about $200.
Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage – Don’t panic, it’s my third copy, and I felt two was enough, again considering the premium it gets on eBay and it’s inevitable eventual rerelease.

Comings & Goings

Just In:

Tigers in the Mist: One problem with being as aggressive about keeping the size of the game collection down as I am is that occasionally you make a mistake. I sold off my copy several years ago after being unimpressed with a couple playings, but by recent success playing Ukraine ’43 lead to my acquisition of Ardennes ’44 and more interest in the Bulge, a battle which traditionally hasn’t really engaged me for some reason. Perhaps my antipathy for Patton. Another factor was my current lack of anything really low-end on the wargame side as the SCS titles have hit the door, and TitM is definitely better than SCS. Anyway, fortunately I think it’s my first “repurchase” of a game I bought after I started making real money, so I’m not too upset about it, and it’s back on the shelves now looking for a chance to play.

Arcana Unearthed: While I like D&D in principle, a lot of things bug me – the main ones being the problematic core classes and weak magic system. AU was billed as solving both of these problems, with a much wider range of more flexible core classes, more interesting races, and a much more interesting and subtle magic system – all the while being d20 and basically recognizable D&D (a “variant player’s handbook”, it says on the cover). I got a little more than I bargained for, because the setting is much more ingrained in the book (not unexpected, perhaps), while I would have preferred something comparatively generic, just better-executed than D&D 3.0/3.5. Still, a system I’d very much like to play.

Earthforce Sourcebook: From Mongoose, who has wisely billed this whole series as an RPG/set of Babylon 5 Coffee Table Books. Lots of good information, very attractive B5 stills (remember the awful ones on Precedence’s CCG?), and the RPG appears good to boot. d20 Babylon 5 has good prestige classes, Star Wars d20 has good prestige classes, why do D&D’s prestige classes suck like a souped-up hoover? Sigh.

Lord of the Rings Tradable Miniatures Game: Another LotR game with a huge name. I have just enough enthusiasm to get a couple boosters and give it a try, but anytime I hear the word “ultra-rare” I get squeamish. Nice figs, though, way better than those new fairly wretched D&D figs, and the game looks decent. Hope to try it soon so I can get ’em onto eBay if it’s no good,

New on order: YINSH & Lord of the Rings: The Duel from Funagain, Anno 1503, Attika (the next Settlers? Oh, please …), Carcassone – Die Burg, and Intrige from Adam Spielt (should be here in two weeks).

Soon to eBay: An extra copy of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (2 is probably enough), Lord of the Rings TCG foils at least and probably the rest of the cards.

Dominating all this on the horizon, however: Lord of the Rings Tabletop Battle Game: The Return of the King, due next weekend.

Selling Games on eBay

A few more games onto eBay … the D&D 3.0 core rulebooks I couldn’t sell at Conquest, now that we’ve upgraded to 3.5. The Sword & Fist sourcebook was a bust, mainly a bunch of munchkin prestige classes unfortunately. Since I recently picked up the new-ish (and better, IMHO) d20 Babylon 5 game from Mongoose, I can live without the old Chameleon Eclectic product. I am torn on parting with my Jeffery Doyle autographed core book for The Babylon Project though, I’ll probably hold onto that, and it has one nice GMs screen which I’ll also keep for the moment. I have never been a big fan of The Gamer’s SCS games, so Ardennes hit the door as I continue to pare this series back to its essentials, now just Fallschrimjaeger and Gazala (this was also influenced by my recent acquisition of Ardennes ’44 from GMT – dissimilar games of course, but how many Bulge games do you need?). Lastly, Advanced Civ … if you’ve followed my opinions for any length of time, you know what I think of that game … but also, we have two copies (both Kim and I owned one), and one is probably sufficient. Plenty of people love the game, so perhaps it will find a good home. As for the North Wind Rain and Up Front deck, these are just some extras that I have no need for; I still have another Up Front action deck in shrink, and the duplicate North Wind Rain was due to an error in my subscription.