Last month Essen, Germany played host to one of the world's largest annual board game conventions: Internationale Spieltage SPIEL. We just call it 'Essen'. The event showcases the latest and greatest of the board gaming world, with publishers often releasing their newest games at the convention.
Copies of those games are now finding their way to Australian shelves, so here's a few of the hottest games from the show.
Players: 2 - 4 Play time: 60 - 120 minutes
Set on the plateau in the Andes often known as Altiplano, the game of the same name is a spiritual successful to Orleans. Altiplano is a bag-building game where players produce goods to go into their bag and then use those goods to produce more goods so that they can be stored and/or delivered by the end of the game.
Altiplano looks like yet another mid-weight engine-building Euro game with a focus on doing things with resources. More importantly, it looks like a very good mid-weight engine-building Euro game with a focus on doing things with resources.
The variety of choices given to players with the bag-building aspect and the overall quality of the design means that if you like anything remotely like Tzolkin, Through the Ages or really any non-party or social deduction board game released in the last ten years, you'll probably like Altiplano.
Plus the first player marker is an alpaca.
Players: 2 - 4 Play time: 30 - 45 minutes
Decorate the king's palace with this tile-drafting game where you're rewarded for how pretty your work is. Azul is a fairly abstract game of tile-placement that will give players enough decisions to be interesting but not enough to ever make them feel paralysed by over-analysis.
Anyone who enjoyed the spatial reasoning of games like Patchwork or Alhambra will enjoy constructing their colourful facade.
Players: 2 - 5 Play time: 70 - 90 minutes
Iberian Rails is a share-holding train game where companies expand across the Iberian peninsular or Taiwan, amassing wealth for their shareholders.
Players don't get to take turns in Iberian Rails, instead the companies that players own stock of do. Each turn you'll draft roles with special powers from a range of options and then the majority shareholder will act as CEO for the company and take action as their drafted role. CEOs can build the company's rail network, connecting them to more cities and increasing the share price, or sell of a share, possibly losing their majority stake in the company but earning money for doing so.
It's entirely possible to win a game of Iberian Rails without ever acting as CEO. That's kind of neat. And the game is on the lighter end of train games, making it accessible for people looking to give the genre a go.
Players: 1 - 4 Play time: 60 - 120 minutes
I've spoken before about my love of Vital Lacerda's brain-burning board games and I expect Lisboa will be no different. Set in the ruins of Lisbon, players work to rebuild the city after it was hit by an earthquake, tsunami and fires in 1755.
In a case of history repeating itself, copies of Lisboa destined for European backers of the Kickstarter campaign were destroyed in a warehouse fire.
As with Lacerda's other games, Lisboa interweaves the mechanics and theme of the game. Everything, from the use of rubble to rebuild buildings to the influence of the church makes a lot more sense when you understand the history of the city. Yet those who don't know of the history of the Portuguese capital should have no trouble understanding what they can do in this game, with a well laid out board and clear symbology to guide players.
Rob 'n' Run
Players: 2 - 5 Play time: 45 - 60 minutes
Get the loot, escape to the airport and live a life of luxury. That's the plan in Rob 'n' Run, a co-operative deduction game. Things never go to plan.
Players take turns to act as the boss, using limited clues to tell their friends which tools they need to crack the safe and get one step closer to escape. Make too many mistakes and the police will catch you. You will make mistakes. You'll make even more mistakes as the game progresses and there are fewer clues to give, fewer tools to use and more guesses required from players.
Players: 2 - 5 Play time: 30 - 60 minutes
Speaking of loot, Loot Island sees players collecting treasure from a beautiful, yet cursed, island. Built on mechanics similar to trick-taking games like Bridge and 500, players stake their claims to parts of the coastline as their ship circles the island. Treasures are collected every round as players build sets and other bonuses in the hopes of having the most riches.
Yet great riches come with great risk. As players amass treasure, they also amass curses. If a player has accumulated too many curses by the end of the game, they're out. Surviving players have to pay a healer a share of their loot to leave the island.
Players: 2 - 5 Play time: 45 minutes
I'm cheating a little with this game as it was originally released in 2008. However, publishers Capstone Games recently reprinted the block-climbing game and sold copies at Essen so I'm counting it.
In The Climbers, you and your friends will jostle your way up a colourful set of building blocks as you shift the blocks around to make a path upwards. Whoever reaches the highest peak when there are no more legal moves is the winner.
Simple, elegant, devious.
The Climbers embraces the physical nature of board gaming and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.
These games, and many more, will be available at Australian board game retailers over the coming months. Please be aware that initial stock, direct from Essen, will be scarce but more copies will become available soon.
I wasn't fortunate enough to go to Essen myself. However Julian Clarke, owner of online retailer Unhalfbricking did and this list is largely made of games that I have played and discussed with him.