Conventions have long been the lifeblood of the tabletop and board gaming subculture, bringing players together to meet developers, try out new products, and play with new groups outside of their local communities.
Conventions like GenCon and DragonCon are staples of the American gaming community, but, on a global scale, the undeniable champion of the tabletop gaming world resides in the city of Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
The International Spieltage Fair, often simply referred to by the name of its hometown, Essen, is drastically different in character to the star-studded American favourites.
Essen is all about the games, forgoing celebrity panels for the simple pleasures of gameplay.
Some of this year’s most celebrated games were on display at Essen, and their popularity at the bustling con can often be a solid predictor for the fame they will have within geekdom at large in the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the fan favourites from Essen 2017:
The follow up to Germany’s 2016 Game of the Year, “Kingdomino,” Queendomino is an expansion of the concept that adds layers of difficulty and strategy.
Compatible with all of the pieces from Kingdomino, Queendomino is a game that allows you to build a kingdom and then manage it. With multiple win conditions, players have to be wise in the administration of their kingdom.
For those who enjoyed Kingdomino, this game seems to be the natural advancement of the concept and is likely to prove just as enjoyable, if not more.
2. The Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures Game
Based on the incredibly popular, gritty fantasy novel series known as A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, this game benefits from the critical acclaim both of the novel series and the HBO television series.
Using dice rolls and surprisingly high-quality miniatures, players will pit the noble families of the fictional realm of Westeros against one another, much like in the series itself.
The game incorporates major characters from the series in leadership roles, affecting the flow of the game via a board of political intrigue.
In addition, the combat is designed to incorporate wounded armies, adding a nice layer of complexity to otherwise simple-to-resolve combat.
3. Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
Pandemic was a wildly successful game that pitted the players against game-controlled outbreaks of deadly disease.
The follow-up to Pandemic was Pandemic Legacy, an expanded version of the game that included “legacy game” features, which cause gameplay choices to have effects that permanently alter the game.
Legacy game features have been seen in all kinds of games, from Risk to the Android series.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 introduces RPG-like character building, a new post-apocalypse setting and an upgrade to the storytelling that has many critics of the original Pandemic Legacy satisfied.
Created by renowned game designer Stefan Feld, Merlin is a game featuring strategic, dice-based gambling and careful planning wrapped in Arthurian flavour.
The game requires players to move around a board by carefully choosing the dice they roll to maximise their chances to earn the resources or abilities they need to win.
Winning involves gathering the highest total points by the end of the game, and there are lots of points to earn; those who excel at minimising risk and maximising gains will likely love the challenge Merlin brings to the table.
5. A Handful of Stars
A galaxy in conflict forms the backdrop of this deck-builder, challenging players to venture to alien worlds, conquer space, and carefully advance their factions’ technologies to secure victory.
The cards in A Handful of Stars grant players both out-of-combat and in-combat benefits, but usually cannot be used simultaneously.
The purpose this serves is to encourage players to carefully strategize: Build, or fight? Conquer, or reconstruct?
As the game goes on, player accomplishments will reward cards to fortify their decks, meaning that strategies will develop and change the closer players get to victory.
With randomly generated boards and a small game map, players are dropped into a competitive environment and have to think on their feet.
6. Star Wars: Legion
Another Star Wars title from board game giant Fantasy Flight Games, Star Wars: Legion represents a foray into the wargame genre in a different way than Fantasy Flight has done with Star Wars before.
Star Wars has two space combat games that utilise detailed miniatures and stats cards, but Legion is the first combat miniatures game that utilises ground forces in smaller-scale, squad-based combat.
The mechanics are similar to those found in Fantasy Flight’s X-wing Miniatures Game, though a major difference is to be found in the fact that the miniatures for Legion are not pre-painted or glued.
For those who enjoy painting miniatures, Star Wars: Legion will provide the opportunity to glue and paint classic characters, vehicles, and environments while also giving you a great gameplay framework to show them off in.
7. Fog of Love
Fog of Love is a game that tackles a totally different theme than any on this list so far.
Instead of fantasy battles or interstellar politics, Fog of Love challenges the players to simply navigate a relationship.
The last game that reached critical success with this sort of theme was back in 2014, a game called “…and Then We Held Hands.”
Fog of Love had remarkable success on Kickstarter and was well-received at Essen as well.
While …And Then We Held Hands was more abstract in nature, Fog of Love gives the players control of specific characters and challenges them to both roleplay their characters and face mechanical challenges on the game board.
There is no guaranteed ending; players could find a way to build a relationship that lasts a lifetime (within the game of course,) or the game could end with the players choosing to go their separate ways.
The game is not about “winning” a relationship, but instead navigating your character to a fulfilling life.
One of the longer games to be received well at Essen (with games often taking up to two hours,) Transatlantic is a game of high-seas economy.
Players are tasked with building shipping empires by maintaining their supply lines of coal for their steamboats, working out trade deals, and organising merchant ventures.
For a game that tends to run long, turn speed is remarkably fast.
Players are given very few actions to work with each turn and must construct their strategy over the course of multiple turns, knowing when to act with impulse and when to hold back.
9. Majesty: For the Realm
Our final game to showcase is a game designed to offer complex play on a short timetable.
Taking on the role of medieval mayors, players must secure and improve the industry of their towns, collecting points for the successful markets they establish and earning bonuses to their score for meeting certain extra objectives.
Cards drawn each round shake up the pattern, as do player-ordered raids on neighbouring villages.
2017 brought some fantastic games to Essen, and the buzz coming from visiting players is sure to give each of these games a boost in the tabletop subcultures.
With so many exciting games, it’s hard to be anything but excited for next year’s convention and the games that will be sweeping local game shops off their feet.