Thursday, 16 October 2014

Essen Spiel 2014


So it is that time of year again, when Europeans descend on the largest games fair in Europe. Over 4 days, Essen plays host to Spiel, a convention where the latest and upcoming board games, miniature games and more are shown off to retailers, gamers and parents looking to get Xmas presents.

Walking around on a Thursday is perhaps the best day. It's not quite wall to wall gamers, and given some are carting around huge bags or trolleys of games, that is a good thing. Get from end to end is a lot easier.

The main hall mainly plays host to boardgames, card games and kids games, while of the other two, one plays host to miniature games, larp gear, rpgs, and the associated comic convention. And this is the hall that I spent most of my time in.

First thing spotted today was Galaxy Defenders: Extinction Protocol and Operation Strikeback, which are expansions for Galaxy Defenders, and from a quick look, it is a minis based game that is a co-op game, and looks very much like a XCOM sort of game. Good looking minis and perhaps a nice entry point for people to start with minis, much like Zombicide and others.

Over at the Prodos games stand they were giving demos of AVP. Up close the miniatures are superb, with the Predator towering over the marines. The components are high quality, and of course your mind first makes comparisons to Space Hulk. However, and this will be running theme, the game allows for 1 or more players. With such a strong IP, excellent sculpts, and game pieces that recreate the gloom and terror of abandoned outposts and space stations, I can see this game being a real winner with plenty of gamers, and people new to the hobby.

New for Spiel!! Bauhaus Starter Set

Prodos were of course showing off their growing range of minis for Warzone Resurrection. Now I will happily admit, before seeing these in the flesh, I really was that convinced by the sculpts. But in person, I was really taken by the Mishima minis, and of course the brand new for Spiel, Bauhaus starter set.

Now as an ex-resident of Leamington Spa, and like the guys who run Prodos, and ex-GW staffer, it was great to talk about the minis, Kickstarter, and the design process, and I came away with a few minis for myself. I'm still not sure if Warzone is the scifi game I want to play, but I will happily paint the minis.

Next up, Freebooters Fate. Now as a big Warmachine Hordes fan, I'm not really in the market for another fantasy skirmish game. But, that said, Freebooters Fate does have some excellent minis that would not be out of place in a session of Iron Kingdoms RPG, Warhammer, or any other fantasy game. I really like the Venetian minis, and I can certainly see this selection of figures, along with those of Carnevale working together well. Of course Freebooters Fate has a home turf advantage, being a game made by Germans.

What more can I say about Ninja Division and their minis for Relic Knights. Damn they are nice. That anime look is excellent, and of course Super Dungeon Explore is back, now support by more expansion sets. Again not sure if either game is my sort of thing, but you can fault designs like these.

There are quite a number of "steampunk" miniature ranges these days. I'm gonna be honest here, Wolsung pushes the wrong buttons for me. Smog on the other hand, by Smart Max, are gorgeous. Given that they are 54mm, that gives you a lot of room for some great designs. Again, not quite the game for me - steampunk I find as an often overused, superficial style.

Hitech Miniatures, well, what more do I say? Looking for something other than what GW or Forge World offer? Well look here.

Titan Forge are of course the other great GW alternative. But that was not the draw for me. This year, building of their early demos from 2013, is their miniature board game, Lobotomy. With the new board, cards and figures, it is looking excellent. Think about what it would be like to escape from Arkham Asylum and you get the idea. Of course, also available to try out and buy was Armymals, of the back of their Kickstarter.

Infinity. Well what more can I say. I like the rules system, I like the minis, and from what I could tell, I could see no boxed games left of Operation Icestorm. Of course Ulisses Spiel were demoing the game, Microarts Studio were present showing of their superb terrain, and between Highlander Games and Ulisses Spiel, you were in miniature gaming heaven. And just over from them, another retailer had a whole load of 4Ground Terrain. Up close, the new Mordanburg buildings are brilliant, and work for many fantasy games. With Terraclips out of print, these are what I would go for.

Forge World. What do I say. Forge World is the only thing GW brings to Spiel. GW minis are not in short supply from other retailers who are trading at a discount. So Forge World makes more sense to bring to such a convention. Pretty, and high quality, but .... meh. It's GW.

Mantic Games were of course there, with their latest release - Mars Attacks. Really great minis, but the terrain is what caught my eye. It is just the right sort of thing for a Batman miniatures game. What really caught my eye though were the miniatures for the Loka board game. Think chess but with elemental based rules layered on top. And of course the battlezone terrain, featured in Deadzone, is great for any scifi game. Oh and the zombies are very cool. Again a great time chatting to them, given how so many of us are ex-GW types, either from the stores or from the "citadel". And of course just great to talk about how different minis or terrain can be used for different games or rpgs. This being the strength of Mantic - they see themselves as part of a larger hobby, rather than being a hobby in and of themselves.

David and I being led through a game of Journey.

"Yes, oh yes, this game shall be mine."

Now for what I would say is the show stealer. Marrow Productions and their Kickstarter game Journey: Wrath of Demons. I did not know these guys would be here, so when I saw it I stop and my jaw dropped. So did my friends'. This game is huge, exquisite, and boutique. You know how I piggybacked a friend Kingdom Death pledge to get in on that? Well think of this game as KD's sister. Same basic idea, a co-op game for 1 or more players. And, much like Hybrid, by Rackham, this game uses double sided tiles to represent the environment. See those minis, they come like that - premade. Apparently what we were playing with were just the early production versions! What more can I say? Well I actually sat down with friends and played the game. It is a grid based movement and attack system, with a simple monster AI system. You take the role of the pilgrims, on their Journey to the West, saving people, defeating demons, saving souls. The system revolves around different coloured D6s which have different effects in the game, used for combat and defence. The sort of approach you see in games like X-Wing for example. Characters progress by accumulating good and bad karma, which improves weapons, gives better stats and more. The initial boxed game has roughly 10 missions, which can be played back to back, allowing for loot and stats to carry over. It's incredibly simple to play, and has a lot of replay value given how decks of cards randomise the game, in terms of demons spawning and items gathered. Two expansions are already incoming, with more planned. It was great to play and chat with Ray, Hon, and the rest of the team there.

Shadows of Brimstone, by Flying Frog Productions, again was available and another product from a Kickstater. Once more, a high quality co-op game for 1 or more players, using miniatures, where denizens of the Wild West town of Brimstone, facing of again the horrors lurking in the mines, or, lurking in the swamps. So two boxedgames, same rules, different settings. Great components once more, excellent figures (but these you do put together). Again, the random generation of the mines/swamp, plus spawning of monsters and loot, offers loads of replay. Perhaps another great entry into mini gaming.

Hawk Wargames were of course back, showing of the new plastic kits they have, the new faction, and of course that massive space ship of theirs.

Golem Arcana was of course on show. Nice components, and I am sure a wonderful game for those seeking something with minis that is not a traditional wargame. But, price wise, and quality wise, Journey blew it away.

Also present, for their first public demos, Don't Panic Games was showing off Drakerys. Again another Kickstarter game that is nice to see in the flesh. A while back I won on Facebook the Fire Elemental in resin, and here I got to see two of the factions, more of the elementals, the play mat, and the scenery. Great quality, and a very different turn system which creates a battle that ebbs and flows.

Lastly, Rudy Games was once more present with their excellent twist on combining board games and mobile technology, with Leaders: the Combined Game. What we have here is something like Risk, but with the mobile tech managing tech trees, espionage and more, much like a game of Civ. This means the tech is there to manage secret moves, diplomacy, secret treaties and more. This to me is what tech should be doing - adding to the game and enabling things that before were not really possible on the table top.

So that is it for my Essen Spiel. Journey: Wrath of Demons stands out as an exceptional product, once I am eager to own. It is also one of many board games with miniatures that allows for solo play, which I have to say is a great thing when getting friends together to play a wargame can be hard. These games fill that desire for miniature gaming, but with out the need for others to play. But at the same time, leave that option available to allow for the fun of a cooperative experience.

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