Spiel 2011: Day 2 – Evolved Dungeon Fiefdom

Our hopes for the second day of Essen didn’t quite work out the way we wanted to – first we were stuck in traffic for much longer than yesterday and then the fair was more crowded as well. It was much harder today to find a table and play, consequently we played less, but saw many games and talked to a lot of great people. Of course, I cannot blame everything on the crowds: the 2 hours we spent playing Fief in the afternoon also kept us from doing some other things. Fortunately, with all the waiting and watching we did today, we had the pleasant and spontaneous company of Eike, a friend and occasional victim (also known as test player).

Evolution: The Origin of Species
Evolution: The Origin of Species

We started the day by stopping back at RightGames (7-05) who were so flooded with people yesterday they didn’t have any time for us. Today we were lucky to have arrived early, I was able to steal a seat in a demo game of Evolution: The Origin of Species. One of the designers of this card game is a studied biologist, so everything that happens in the game is certain to be an accurate depiction of actual species development – or maybe not, because if it is they are going to eat us all. The point of the game is to develop your animals by adding various traits to them, things like Swimming, Camouflage, Burrowing or the ever popular Carnivorous. Even more fun, your animals can be cooperating with each other to share food or even have a symbiotic relationship. After all players created some animals, the food supply is determined and all animals try to eat enough to survive. Of course, if your animal is a carnivore, you might just decide to eat other animals – a big part of the game is the arms race between carnivores and their prey, and it’s very satisfying to gleefully devour your opponent’s swimming, camouflaged, burrowed critter. Evolution certainly deserves the various awards it won in Russia, but if you still want a copy in Essen you should hope there is one left, the supplies were shrinking rapidly when we left.

Our next intention was to try Cité from Le Joueur at (5-59) a booth shared with other French publishers. However, Cité turned out to be way to popular in all respects: we were unable to find a table, and if you don’t hurry you’ll be unable to buy a copy. I think when we stopped by there before lunchtime there was 8 copies left and I’m almost sure I saw designer Guillaume Besançon drawing more copies with coloured pencils just to meet the demand. Since all spaces for Cité were taken, we played Sandwich instead – a game in a completely different league of strategic planning, but nevertheless highly entertaining. You use ingredient cards to create sandwiches that the other players than rate on a scale from yummy to garbage. The fun comes from the desperate attempts to create two decent sandwiches from tuna, chocolate, ricotta, mustard, mint and chicken. Very enjoyable, but after just one game we had to cede this table for the next group of players as well.

Mutant Meeples
Mutant Meeples

We then drifted around the Ascora booth (5-98) for some time in the vain hope to get three spots for Nefarious, the mad scientist game. Due to a grave tactical mistake on my part – I had my back turned at the wrong time – we lost our chance to sit and play, but we did get to watch some of the game. Not enough to know what’s going on, but enough to love the illustrations and the wacky B-Movie style inventions you can make in order to take over the world. I hope I will have a chance to play Nefarious soon, but it seems this is one more game for which “buying it at the fair” is becoming unlikely. But there seems to be a chance that more copies will be delivered tomorrow, so don’t give up quite yet. While we were waiting we also took the time to learn Ted Alspach’s upcoming Kickstarter project Mutant Meeples. It has Meeples, how could we possibly skip it? Mutant Meeples will be a puzzle game in the style of Ricochet Robots – you’re trying to get a Meeple to the target field with as little moves as possible – but all the Meeples have a super power to use and you cannot reuse the same Meeple to capture another target after you used it once. It looks like Mutant Meeples will be a load of fun and we’ll keep you posted on the Kickstarter project.

Fief
Fief

And then it was time for the big one: Fief by Asyncron Games (5-83). I don’t usually play games lasting more than 45-60 minutes at fairs, they just take up too much of the day, and it’s testament to the game as well as the great guys learning the game with us that I didn’t mind at all this time. You take control of a noble family in Fief and control their fate through wars, intrigue, treason and alliance until one family emerges as the most powerful. Or maybe two families, if they are allied by marriage. At first Fief looks like a simple sort of wargame: you move your nobles around the board, accompanied by knights and soldiers and conquer villages to be declared liege of the territory. We quickly rid ourselves of that perception: war is an option, but it’s very damaging for both sides, literally the last argument of kings. Much more important is the art of diplomacy and intrigue, you form alliances with other players, sell your vote in the papal election – with kind regards from the Borgias – and ransom captured nobles for support. Although we played for almost two hours we didn’t finish the game in the end. Sizi and me would have won by virtue of having a Pope in the family, but before the round could end the plague took Pope Arthur the First from us and we all agreed to go try other games. Fief is a great, complex game and I’ll gladly play it again – but with my abysmal French skills, I will have to wait for the English version. Incidentally, I think Asyncron is looking for a way to make Fief happen as an international edition. Is anyone here going to talk to them and make it happen?

A subjective 7 kilometres of walking later – my feet are a bit sore at this point – we had watched half a game of Funkenschlag: Die ersten Funken and a body spraypainting demonstration. The new Funkenschlag was one of the games I had really looked forward to trying, but again seats at the table were rare and we ended up only watching. On the bright side, we now have our copy and will try it at our own table very, very soon. And I’m not kidding about the body spraypainting, a scantily dressed young lady was being aerosoled into a comic book heroine. I don’t think we ever had a demonstration like that at Essen, but there’s a first time for everything and it sure drew an audience.

Today ended with a very enthusiastic demo round of Cranio Creation’s (9-57) Dungeon Fighter – not the first game to combine a dungeon crawler setting with dexterity mechanics, but the most hilarious one. A group of brave cliché fantasy heroes ventures into the deep dungeons to vanquish monsters. To do that, players throw dice, but which way up they land is secondary to where they land as there is a big target on the table that you want to hit. Actually, it’s not all that big. Rather small, really. Minuscule. At least I didn’t hit it once until we got to the boss. As if targeted dice throwing wasn’t bad enough, some monsters make you do things with it. Throw the dice from your elbow. Or under your leg. But you can counter them with weapons that add damage to your blows – if you do a pirouette before throwing the dice. Or bounce it of the game box. Or maybe sit on the floor to throw. Or, if you’re really desperate and it’s the last chance to kill the dungeon’s boss: all of the above, combined. It was hilarious.

Dungeon Fighter
Dungeon Fighter

And thus ends Day Two of our epic boardgame adventure in Essen. Now it’s time for some tea and sleep before we had back there and see what other gems we can dig up.