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Digital Subscriptions > Tabletop Gaming > Issue Seven – Dec/Jan '17 > CAST A SPIEL ON YOU

CAST A SPIEL ON YOU

We run through the exciting new announcements, ones to watch and tabletop highlights from the biggest Essen yet

If you put a gas in a container, it will expand to fill that volume. In much the same way, this year’s Essen Spiel seemed just as packed to the rafters with visitors as last year’s show, despite having three entirely new halls to spread into. This is probably thanks to the evergrowing popularity of Europe’s biggest gaming event, which saw a record-breaking 174,000 fans return to Messe Essen in October to check out the latest the tabletop world has to offer.

And, boy, what an offering it was. There were more than 1,200 new releases and world premieres across the four days, not to mention the thousands of previously-released games on display that you might have missed since the last show. Everything from hardcore strategy titles to five-minute party games proved a hit – we don’t think we saw an empty stall the entire time we were there, and the doors to the show were actually opened early on all four days to cope with the crowds.

This year’s show also seemed to be a much more kid-friendly affair, with the corridors in-between the halls stuffed with trampolines, sweet shops and all sorts of other fun. Of course, adults are welcome to take part in all of that, too, but they would have to wait their turn behind the many children we saw having a blast both on those attractions and the many, many demonstration tables set up for games across all seven halls.

Despite the heaving crowds, Essen once again proved itself one of – if not the – friendliest conventions in the world. Players from around the world sat down at tables together to decipher German instructions and try out games ranging from the fast-paced hooves-meet-track flight-and-fight of Chariot Race to the delicious delights of Spaghetti and even prototypes of further-off releases such as Kill the Unicorns and the comic book-themed Justice League: Dawn of Heroes.

Of course, there was also plenty of shopping to be done, including major savings on big-box games (although perhaps not as major as last year for us from the UK – thanks, Brexit) and impulse purchases of niche oddities from the more than 1,000 exhibitors hailing from 50 different countries – assuming that you had much suitcase space to spare, that is.

Those who backed some of the seemingly unending stream of crowdfunded tabletop campaigns over the last few years had the chance to finally pick up the finished products at many stands, while it was a common sight to see the familiar green splodge announcing ‘COMING SOON TO KICKSTARTER’ at many others.

All in all, it was another fantastic year for the European home of tabletop games and another uplifting sign of the continuing growth and health of this wonderful hobby. Over the next few pages we’ve collected just a handful of the many games we spotted and played during our time in Essen. Some are brand new, while others may be lesser-known releases we think deserve highlighting – but all of them are worth sticking on your wish list.

VINHOS DELUXE EDITION

GRYPHON AND EAGLE GAMES

Arriving six years after designer Vital Lacerda’s winemaking Euro strategy game first popped its cork, this deluxe edition’s double-sided board includes both the 2010 ‘Reserve Edition’ original and a revised ‘Special Vintage 2016’ version featuring new features and improved rules. This includes the compete removal of the banking system and, in fact, the presence of money entirely, which Lacerda told us makes the game simpler to understand for newcomers while also maintaining a more energetic pace.

Whether you like slowly sipping Riesling or necking Tesco Value red from the bottle, you’re likely to be impressed by the absolutely stunning illustration on the board and the gorgeous wooden components, including workers, barrels and – of course – diddly little bottle meeples.

Players purchase vineyards, hire staff (try saying enologist after a couple of glasses), construct wineries and cellars, and hire experts to bump up the quality of their tipple in an effort to export it worldwide over the in-game course of six years. Every few years a wine fair takes place, where each player can present their finest creation in the hope of outclassing their opponents.

The deluxe edition adds a solo ruleset, for those of us who mumble ‘I could be a wine expert, s’easy’ whenever someone describes a wine using a phrase like ‘I’m getting notes of an Autumn breeze’. There’s also a ninth region and new estate, as well as all-around improvements and tweaks to gameplay elements such as the fair, manager and exporting. Both faces of the double-sided board can actually be used with both sets of rules – new and old – expanding the game’s replayability.

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