Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Monday 28 October 2019

The Game Shelf Visits:- Spiel 2019 in Essen, Germany

We're home from our first ever visit to Spiel in Essen, Germany! Along with 209,000 other visitors and 1,200 exhibitors we spent some time at Essen last week buying games, playing games and meeting up with friends. Essen is the largest board game convention in the world and WOW, it certainly felt like it too!

In 2.5 days we did mange to explore all 6 halls, played a few demos each day and came home with a lot of games. Thursday and Friday were actually less busy than I had expected, but Saturday felt like Armageddon at times. Next year, we'll either be booking meetings or avoiding the halls on Saturday! I didn't expect to be able to find a demo table at all, but I was really surprised by how often we got lucky and found a game we wanted to play, even on Saturday, although it was significantly more difficult!

From a personal perspective, I'm really happy with the games we found to buy or review and generally happy with what we got the chance to play. But, although it seems a little cliche, I'm also happy that we upped our social game for this convention. We're certainly not the kind who want to approach people from Twitter or Youtube, just to say 'Hi', but we did connect with more publishers and friends and had social plans every night - it's starting to feel a little more like home during conventions thanks to people like Kai, Nuria, Paul, Dan, Vince and Mark.

New Games

Essen is still growing. The number of new games this year was 1,500, compared to 1,400 last year. However, there was a general consensus that this year had no big stand-out game that sold out in minutes. On Thursday there was a smattering of sold out signs, and more and more each day, but its hard to know what the big hit was.

We decided to pay to ship our games home from the halls, shipping one box on Thursday and a smaller box on Saturday. Our boxes haven't arrived yet, but they're both on their way. Since we were paying to get them home, we didn't want to buy games that will make their way to the UK in a matter of weeks. We focused on the games we think might not come out in the UK at all or publishers who have often taken a long time to get their games to the UK, as well as some games for upcoming reviews. We also shipped a bunch of games to The Ludoquist board game cafe in Croydon, where Amy works.

Coming home in our hand luggage were:
  • Pret-a-Porter was a Kickstarter pick-up from Portal Games. It was exceedingly heavy and a bit of an issue at check-in!
  • Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula  was on my most anticipated list, since it's from the same designer and publisher as Teotihaucan. I expect that it's heavy in more ways than one!
  • X-Wing Miniatures were hugely discounted at the show. Amy could've bought a lot more than 5! the smaller ships were just 3 euros and the fact that they're in German doesn't matter because we have a 2nd edition conversion kit. We avoided the larger ships, but at just 7 euros, they were a huge bargain for the miniatures alone!
  • Everdell Bellfaire & Everdell Spirecrest are the two latest expansions for Everdell. I wasn't even sure they were going to be at Essen, but now I'm glad I chose not to back the recent Kickstarter because I have the two expansions in my hands!
  • T-Rex's Holiday and Majolica Painting are both from Blue Magpie Games, one of the publishers represented by Taiwan Board Game Design. Last year they brought out Majolica which many people compared favourably to Azul. Both of these games are roll and writes, but I'm excited to try them out.
  • Silver & Gold is a game I finally gave up waiting for an English language edition of. It's a small card-based 'roll and write' type game from Phil Walker-Harding. I'm sure Pandasaurus will get their edition out very soon, but it was inexpensive, so I'm happy to have it now.
  • The Mind Extreme is a version of The Mind where you have two decks numbered 1-to-50 - one red, one white, White cards must be played ascending, red cards must be played descending and some rounds are played face-down!
  • Walking in Provence is from Emperor S4 and is a sequel to Walking in Burano. The game looks quite different, and much more like Honshu than Walking in Burano, but with a similar harming art style.
  • Escape Tales: Low Memory is the second Escape Tales game from Board & Dice. Escape Tales: the Awakening was an epic narrative escape room game that was a superb gaming experience and I can't wait for more.
  • Nine Tiles Panic is one of the latest releases from Oink Games, who release really small box games. It's a competitive real time game and there's a whole lot packed into that tiny box!
  • Albedo: Yggdrasil is the latest expansion for Albedo, from designer Kai Hebertz. Albedo is the best hidden gem we've ever found and we are glad to continue to support this innovative deck-building game.
  • Fleet: The Dice Game is a really heavy looking roll and write from Eagle Gryphon games. It was an impulse purchase after not seeing a release in the UK.
You can fit a whole lot into two small suitcases!

In a cardboard box somewhere between Essen and Surrey are a bunch of games for The Ludoquist:
  • Zoom in Barcelona is a game we tried at UKGE. It's the first published game from the lovely people at Cucafuera game and we're excited to try the advanced mode now we have a copy to play again.
  • L.L.A.M.A. is a card game from Reiner Knizia that was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. I don't think I've seen it in English yet, so for 6 euros, I'm happy to try it.
  • Papillon was Kickstarted by Kolossal Games. It has lovely 3D flowers and you put butterflies on them. It's supposed to play well with two as well!
  • Cairn is a two-player only game from Matagot that looks like fun chess.
  • Bloom Town is the first game from Sidekick Games - a publishing company founded by Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen - designers of Deep Blue, Flamme Rouge and Copenhagen. We played a demo and really enjoyed it.
  • Plunderbund was a game highlighted by a few media folks on Twitter during the show. We followed the tip-off and got a really exciting explanation of this economic game with a side of deck-building.
  • Skytopia: in the circle of time is from the designer and publisher of Smartphone Inc, one of the break out hits of last year's Spiel.
  • Rush M.D. is a new game based on the system of Kitchen Rush - one of our absolute favourite cooperative games. This time you're in a hospital, completing mini games and dexterity challenges, all in real time.
  • Ka Pai is one of many roll and writes. It was hard to not buy all of the roll and writes at the show!
  • Underwater Cities: New Discoveries is an expansion to a game we've only played once, but we really wanted the Delicious Games edition to match our base game!
  • MegaCity: Oceania is from Hub Games. It's a great dexterity experience crossed with a euro game that we tried at UKGE.
  • War of the Worlds: The New Wave is an assymetric 2-player only game that was Kickstarted by Grey Fox Games.
  • Vast: The Mysterious Manor will be our first venture into the games designed by Leder Games and wer're ecited to find out what all of the fuss is about!

The Demos

As I noted, I was surprised how many demos we got the chance to play. Essen, more-so than any other convention we've attended seemed to have huge booths with significant gaming space. Every game we played was a full game and that even seemed to be true for some of the larger 2-3 hour games that we chose to avoid to maximise the number of games we had the chance to see.

Here's a few of the best games we had the chance to play. While none of them fit the criteria for games we needed to bring home in our luggage, we will hopefully find a few releasing in the UK soon.
  • Last Bastion is a re-implementation of Ghost Stories from Antoine Bauza. The game has a new theme and a few changes to mechanisms, but stays very close to the original game of Ghost Stories. The ghosts are now skulls, but they still advance onto the board, with 3 skulls meaning that you lose. There are still 5 different colours of tokens used to defeat monsters. Most of the village tiles have also had their ability slightly tweaked. The production quality is high, with 8 different character miniatures (and the option to buy a painted miniature set) and minis to hang a banner and to represent a net and a cart full of explosives. If you missed out on Ghost Stories, which is now 10 years old then you might as well buy Last Bastion - it's still a fantastic and very challenging cooperative game. If you have Ghost Stories, like we do, then it might not be worth buying a whole new game.
  • Bloom Town is an elegant tile-laying and town building game. Each turn you take a tile from the 5 face-up tiles in the market and add it to your 5x5 grid player board. The type of tile will determine how it scores eg. parks like to be in groups of 3, whilst subway stops want to be in a diagonal pattern. Where you place the tile will determine which tile will take next. Your board is split into 5 columns, each with a printed symbol and these correspond to the 5 tiles in the market. In addition to the scoring when you place a tile, there will be bonus scorings, as well as a few special powers you can use during the game. We really enjoyed the simplicity of Bloom Town - it's a very clean design with a classic feel to it and we're looking forward to playing some more.
  • Big Dig is a small release from Tasty Minstrel Games. It works much like a roll and write or flip and fill game, expect you're not rolling or flipping over cards. Each player works with an identical player board depicting an area to mine - including different coloured gems, fossils and artifacts, a tunnel and some rocks. Each game will use three objectives from the deck, perhaps mine all green gems or completely surround the fossil. On your turn you can either take one of the five cards and draw that shape on your board - mining through the soft earth only, or you can blow up a rock. All of you crossed out areas must connect to each other or the surface. Once all 5 cards in the centre have been used they're flipped over and returned to the centre as a new supply. It's only a 10-minute game and it's a nice little pocket roll and write.
  • Miyabi is the latest family title from Haba Games. You can spot their family titles because they're not in the classic yellow box. Miyabi is a tile laying game which, like many, uses tetromino pieces. There's a fixed supply of pieces for each round with pieces in a variety of shapes and sizes, depicting one of 6 different feature types. You'll each be constructing a Japanese garden by taking one tile per turn and placing it so that the feature is in the correct row of your player board and in a column you've not yet placed something in in that round. With a 6x6 grid, you'll take 6 turns per round. Once you have a base, tiles can be stacked, with bonuses for the first to reach the 5th level on any given row. Tile placement gets more and more interesting as the game goes on ad you try to score big points for placing features on higher levels while maintaining a majority of symbols in each row compared to all other players. It's a brilliant puzzle that ramps up as you go along and I'd love to try again to beat Amy after her runaway victory in our first game.

  • Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 - Japan & Italy jumps the queue of Ticket to Ride maps we're yet to play. We played the Japan side of the map which adds a couple of interesting new elements. The first obvious difference is the board, which has two 'zoomed in' areas for major cities. There's no real effect on gameplay, you just need to be mindful of how to connect a place on the main map to somewhere on the zoomed in section -which the ticket cards are very good at showing graphically. The main gameplay difference is the bullet trains, which add a semi-cooperative feel to the game. The bullet trains can be placed by anyone and there's an end game point bonus for contributing the most, but all bullet train routes are considered connected for everyone when it comes to scoring tickets. During the game, you play card the same way, eg. three matching red cards to claim length 3 bullet train route, but instead of scoring points, you just go up 3 on the bullet train track. I love how much of a difference this adds into the game - it feels far more significant than many expansions, really changing the strategy in the game, but also making the map more open and making this map a bit of a ticket-fest, much like Switzerland - another map I really enjoy.
  • Mine Deeper is a very tactile, toy-like game from Korea Board Games. It's pretty much a Battleship game for two players in which you need to be the first to find all 5 of your opponents red gems. Each player takes a different setup card, placing red, yellow, grey and a single purple gem. On your turn, you poke on of the doors and cause the gem behind it to fall - a purple gem indicates that two adjacent gems are red, a yellow gem indicates that one adjacent gem is red, a grey means nothing and finding reds is your goal. A a deduction game, it's very simple, but satisfying, even though Amy basically won by guessing all of the locations of my gems without clues. Unfortunately, it is a little too fragile and gems fall out either with great difficulty or way too easy, causing a landslide of boulders to fall from one push. It's a lovely concept for a kids game, but just not quite executed in production.

  • Trails of Tucana is a roll and write game from Aporta Games and the designers of one of our favourites - Kokoro. Each player takes a map sheet, but denotes outpost locations in different places on their board. One of the key goals of the game is to connect outpost A to the opposing outpost A, B to B and so on. Each turn you can draw one line segment based on two cards flipped over. Each card shows a terrain type, so you might be able to connect water and forest. As well as connecting outposts there are objects around the board that you'll also score for and you can gain a bonus line segment for connecting both symbols of one type to any outpost. We really liked this roll and write, although the players with us definitely didn't understand it. It's got a lot of similarities to Kokoro, but with a couple of extra scoring benefits that are perhaps simpler, but add more strategies into the game. I think I might need this one, in spite of our pretty large roll and write collection.
  • Porto is a family weight game from Portuguese publisher Mebo Games, about building the colourful buildings of Porto. Each turn you either take cards or play cards. If you take cards, you can take  total value of three from the supply. If you play cards you play 2 cards - one for its colour and one for its numerical value eg. 3 red. In this case you would take 3 red building level tokens and either start a new building on the board or add them to an existing building. If a building is completed, you add a roof tile. There are different scoring objectives to work towards and some private end game scoring objective too. What really makes this game stand out is how it looks - the board is a work of art and the houses have a really satisfying look to them. For us, the game is perhaps a little too simple, but I'm really glad that we managed to play it once.
  • Glen More II: Chronicles is a reprint of the classic tile-laying game Glen More. In preparation for our demo, we played Glen More in the run-up to Spiel for the first time. The base game of Glen More II keeps all of the same basic concepts as the original, but its been given a new, more modern art style. Mechanically, only the personalities have been added, who allow you to explore the new map board, which reminds me of travelling in Orleans. The major changes with the second edition come with the 8 chronicles - which are each a mini expansion that can be mixed, matched and combined. Glen More II was probably the best game we played all weekend, however it's at least four times the volume of the original, so the expansions need to be great to justify the game's size - I'd really like to give them a try. If you don't have Glen More, then I really think Glen More II is a must try!

We did play a few more demos, which for one reason or another didn't fit with us, including Kingsburg: The Dice Game, Funkoverse, House Flippers, Bronze and City Blox, but I guess that's not a bad hit rate.

To Wrap it Up...
  • I had spiral potatoes.
  • Food at the convention was very reasonably priced. Water was not.
  • Spiel was HUGE!
  • Saturday is bad.
  • Crowds are crazy.
  • People are awesome.We should spend more time with people.
  • We played much more than we expected to play.
  • There wasn't one huge standout game.
  • We have so many new games to play!
  • Shipping games home was a good plan, but suitcase Tetris is also fun.
  • The nicest toilets were in between Hall 5/6.
  • The press conference was in German - Doh!

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