Imagine a board game where the object is to traverse the board and buy board games. Yeah, that just happened. Whether you are a seasoned convention veteran or someone who only knows where Germany is on a map, you now have the distinct pleasure to live or relive a crazy day at the Essen Spiel. And the best part is, you don’t have to spend your own money!
As you may have guessed from the title, ESSEN The Game, from Fabrice Beghin, Frederic Delporte and Etienne Espreman, is a game that aims to encapsulate the spirit and sheer madness of every board gamer’s Graceland: Intertnationale Spieltage, the gaming convention held annually in Essen, Germany.
ESSEN The Game is a strategic pick-up and deliver game where 2-4 players will utilize action point movement to move throughout the convention floor collecting sets of popular board games to fulfill their wish lists. Points are scored for each game purchased based on the game’s popularity, rating and the player’s own wish list. The player who best diversifies their collection and satisfies their personal acquisition disorder is the winner.
The board is laid out like a convention center map with 5 different colored exhibit halls. The designers were even able to gain the approval of over 60 publishers to use their company logo and a popular 2013 Spiel release to really drive home the look and feel of a convention floor. While we reviewed a prototype version of the game, the final art and graphic design on the Kickstarter page looks very clean and inviting. At first glance, the board is busy but the symbols and board spaces are clearly identified using color codes to match the corresponding games and wish list cards.
Before play starts, players will draft a “wish list” of board games. Each player is dealt 8 wish list cards, selects one and passes to the left. This continues until each player has 4 board games on their initial wish list (face down and secret). The remaining wish list cards are placed face-up to the side of the game board. These are available for any player to obtain if the corresponding board game is purchased. Players who purchase the board games on their wish list cards will score points at the end of the game based on the number of completed wish list items.
A round of ESSEN The Game is broken down into two phases: the Exhibit Maintenance phase and the Action Phase. During the Exhibit Maintenance phase, the following steps are taken:
- Release New Games: Players will take the 6 board game tiles from the pallet truck spaces (a 3 row area of the game board where new board game tiles are housed before being placed in the exhibit halls next round) and place them on their corresponding publisher booth. The next 6 board game tiles will then be placed randomly on the now vacant pallet truck area.
- Adjust Popularity: The 1st and 3rd rows of the pallet truck adjust the popularity of the board games placed there -1 and +1 respectively. Players will adjust the popularity track to thematically represent the growing convention trends for each of the 4 board game types: Meeple, Cards, Dice and Hourglass. For example, if CV (a “Dice” game) is placed in row 1 of the pallet truck, Dice game popularity will be decreased by 1. If it was randomly drawn into row 3, it would increase the popularity of Dice games by 1.
- Move Crowd/Events – The crowd markers will move to different exhibit halls on the board based on the newly revealed games in row 2 of the pallet truck. The crowds hinder players moving through the hall where those games are found (as the mobs rush to buy the “new hotness”). Finally, 2 special events bonuses will be drawn at random and applied to the 2 board game tiles in row 2. These special events include things such as sold out (can only buy 1), buzz (+3 VP) or promos (+1 VP).
At the start of the Action phase, first player is determined by the player with the least amount of games in his bag. During the Action Phase, in turn order, players can spend their action points to conduct various actions on their turn. The number of action points available to each player depends on the number of games in their bag, with 8 action points being the maximum allowed. This is reduced by one for each game the player is currently carrying. The actions that can be taken on a player’s turn are:
- Movement: Move throughout the exhibit hall. Each space costs 1 action point or 2 if you are trying to move through a hall with the crowd marker.
- Purchase: Purchase a game from the vendor space you currently occupy. Purchased games are immediately added to your bag, effectively reducing your available actions by 1. When purchasing a game it immediately scores that player points equal to the current popularity of the game type and any bonuses
- Playtest: Draw 2 wish list cards from the deck. Choose 1 and return the other to the discard pile. This costs 1 action point.
- Unload Games: When in the parking lot, players may deposit their purchased games in the trunk of their car in order to free up action points and re-enter the convention floor for more purchases. After unloading games, any action points that become available may be immediately spent as normal. Unloading Games does not cost an action.
- Cash Withdrawal: When in the parking lot, players may withdraw money from the ATM. Each withdrawal of 50 Euro will cost you 2 victory points. Withdrawing cash does not cost an action.
Knowing is half the battle: The Beer & Pretzels space in the middle of the board allows players to buy back 2 actions for the price of $20, so take advantage of it when you are weighed down by all of your purchases.
At the start of round 4 and the end of round 7, players will score their games based on the ratings card provided by the 3 popular board game sites: BoardGameGeek, Tric Trac and Fairplay. Each ratings card specifies a number of each of the 4 types of games available for purchase. If players have managed to purchase game types equaling those provided on the ratings card, they score the indicated number of points. Players may score more than one rating card.
The game lasts 7 rounds at which point the convention closes. Players will count up the number of wish list games that they purchased and score points based on the tiered scoring shown on their player board. The player with the most victory points is the winner. Tiebreak is the player with the least money because, lets face it, if you come home from Essen with money you’re doing something wrong.
ESSEN The Game strives to take players on a jaunt through a single day at the world’s largest game fair. The designers have done an exceptional job incorporating theme into each and every detail and mechanic within the game.
As with any pick-up and delivery game, movement in ESSEN The Game is essential to consider. There are a number of decisions to take into account when moving around the board and purchasing games. The action points each player may utilize during their turn will change based on the number of games he or she is carrying in their backpack, thematically portraying the inability to move quickly under the weight of Caverna and company. Be careful not to buy too many games at once, or risk being left at a near standstill in the crowded aisles. Players can easily be tempted by the bonuses on offer by games in the outskirt areas, but attempt to get there with a full bag and it will be a slow journey back to the car. Be sure to take advantage of the Beer & Pretzels space as this can sometimes be the difference between making it to the car this turn or having to wait another round.
It wouldn’t be a convention without the crowd getting in your way on your quest to retrieve the coveted new release(s), either. There is nothing worse than having a full bag of games and then seeing the crowd flow right into the section between you and the exit. While crowd placement is somewhat random, players are still able to make an educated guess as to where the crowds may go next turn based on the games that have already been placed on the board and/or purchased. If the purple section is 70% full, the odds are in favor of the crowds not be drawn to that section in the next turn or two; allowing you to make your way there and clean up, unhindered.
Earning points in ESSEN is relatively easy as it’s feasible that you could score multiple games on one turn; however, players must consider a number of factors when trying to efficiently score; the game’s popularity, their wish list items and the ratings of the popular board game sites must all be taken into account. Completing personal wish list items can be extremely beneficial to your end game score, but it can easily be derailed by other players purchasing your wish list game for their own immediate benefit, so be sure to demo games (draw new cards) every so often to refresh your wish list. Finding a healthy balance between scoring points immediately (based on popularity and bonuses) and the mid/end game scoring (ratings and wish lists) is crucial to you having a productive day in Essen. Oh, and don’t forget that you have to balance your budget. Spend early and spend often, but make sure to utilize trips back to the parking lot to obtain some additional cash. Games aren’t cheap in this fictional setting and it is completely frustrating to run out of Euros while standing 2 squares away from the last game on your wish list.
At its heart, ESSEN The Game is a light weight pick-up and deliver game that any board game fan could appreciate. The rules are simple, streamlined and easy to teach. The game moves at a nice pace and offers players plenty of interesting decisions in each round. There are a couple of AP-prone moments towards the end as players are trying to optimize their movement and purchases to fulfill outstanding wish list or ratings requirements. Regardless, we found that most of our games were completed in 45 minutes to an hour with little to no downtime for the players. Overall, ESSEN The Game is an extremely enjoyable experience, offering players a smooth blend of theme and mechanics with a side of meta!
When I heard that there was a game being developed that would have players rushing around a board trying to buy board games at Essen I brushed it aside as a gimmick that would probably not interest me. Yet the more I read about the game the more intrigued I became. And I will be the first to say that I loved being proven wrong in this instance. The designers of ESSEN The Game have done a wonderful job transporting the look and feel of a convention onto your tabletop. I really enjoyed how well the theme integrates with the mechanics to provide players with interesting and meaningful decisions on each turn while still keeping the pace of the game quick. ESSEN The Game offers fans of our “little” hobby a fun journey through the craziness of the world’s largest board game convention without the need to travel.
Smee’s Two Pence
Most everyone can relate to the rush of finding a hot new release and snapping it up, but now you can do so without spending real money! As I might have mentioned elsewhere, I like a good theme in my games, and ESSEN supplies this in spades. From the crowds (sheeple!) getting in your way, to your decreasing mobility as all of that cardboard begins to weigh you down, and the overpriced convention food in the middle of the hall. Offering a fair share of possible strategies and replayability without being too random, I found myself quite enjoying this title, and would easily suggest it to anyone with a passion for board gaming. Given this, I’ll award ESSEN The Game two thumbs up in the Pick-Up and Deliver category.
ESSEN The Game gives all gamers, big and small, an opportunity to tic a box on their Gaming Bucket List, without having to elbow their way through crowds or explain to their loved ones why the electric bill won’t be paid this month. In a very simple package, ESSEN The Game provides a system of set collection and delivery that is full to the brim with theme. The game itself is not overly involved, making it a breeze to teach and then get to the table in between other games. It’s not quite a filler, but I wouldn’t invite others over just to play ESSEN The Game either. It felt right hitting the table outside on a random afternoon when the weather was nice and we weren’t sure what to get into. The popularity track and the action point system are unique, providing enough interesting decisions to make you stop and contemplate your turn. Attempting to balance the long term Wish List points with the immediate popularity points is tricky, and often gives you something to chew one while others take their turns. If you’ve angered the Gods of Randomness before breaking this one out, there is a possibility that you can be left hung out to dry. Players whose Wish Lists games also happen to be popular are going to be at an advantage and sometimes, no matter the odds, those crowds just love to follow you around, making your progression through the game half of everyone else. This hasn’t happened too often, but there have been a few plays where one player was quite disappointed with their options most of the game and other times where one player steam-rolled ahead, both as a result of random draws. Overall, there is a lot to like about this game. For those looking for something quick and easy, that really excels in portraying a theme, ESSEN The Game could be a great option.
I’ve never been to a boardgaming convention, but having played ESSEN The Game a couple of times, I’d like to think I would be great at it. I really enjoyed playing this game. I was a little skeptical at first – the game board has a lot of things going on and I am really not well versed in games’ box art presented in various European languages – but I was able to pick up the game easily enough. I quickly found myself scheming and mapping out my path through the exhibition halls so that I could maximize my purchases in as few moves as possible. Of course, then someone would snipe my wishlist game and I would fume internally until it was my turn again, but hey, we cant win ’em all, right? Regardless, ESSEN The Game constantly keeps things interesting by moving the crowds from round to round, changing the point values of games with each shipment from the pallet truck, and allowing players to add to their wish list and actively adjust their objectives. I will happily continue to play ESSEN The Game. I will also continue to pretend I’m winning at conventions each time I play it.
My one experience with ESSEN The Game felt fairly lopsided during play due to random draws, however the end result was closer than anticipated. Regardless, I found myself quite unlucky on my go-around which made my experience less than favorable. Moving around the board became a nuisance, as crowds flocked to the same areas of the convention center as I did to snag the latest game on their imaginary wishlist. (Is it possible they are also playing ESSEN The Game in an alternate reality?) As I waded through what seemed to be molasses to my next game purchase, the lights went down, doors were locked and everyone drove off with trunks overstuffed with gaming goodness. Although, my playthrough was rough the game was enjoyable enough that I’d revisit the “Spiel.” The thematic details—encumbered by purchases, visits made to the ATM and popularity gained for specific game types—tied everything together into a tight package. Not a seasoned convention-goer (I’ve been to approximately…zero gaming conventions), I didn’t find the theme overly interesting. But, those that have attended ESSEN will likely have the right to get excited. One of my fears, though, is the game will become antiquated, thematically speaking. The games on display debuted no later than 2013 and having just recently launched on Kickstarter, this game may not hit shelves, and tables alike, until 2015. For those in the United States, shipping will make this game rather pricey to back, also. ESSEN The Game was a good game with a strong theme, but I feel my single playthrough (unfortunate results included) does not allow me to recommend or dissuade, so I’ll remain neutral on this one.
The League of Nonsensical Gamers would like to thank Geek Attitude Games for kindly providing us with a prototype of ESSEN The Game for this preview.
ESSEN The Game is currently funding over on Kickstarter. If this game piques your interests, head on over to the campaign page by June 30, 2014 to pick up and deliver your own copy. For $55 plus shipping, you receive a copy of the game along with all reached stretch goals. We received an image of the final board art and it looks great.