Essen ’16 – Stewart’s Preview

Essen 2016 is just mere days away. It doesn’t seem a year since last time, but it has been a busy one. So what has been going on? What’s different and what are my plans for the event?

Well first of all this will be my 10th year in a row. You were right Geoff, I keep on going back!! This will be the first year that I will not be working for Treefrog and the Wallaces. With the decision by Martin and Julia to become a design house, they will no longer need the stand and the eye watering overheads that this attracts, so this year I can be found on the StrataMax Games stand and Grey Fox Games stand, which is quite handy really as Grey Fox have a game that is on my interest list.

While the Treefrog heads into the forest, Stratamax will have their biggest booth at Essen and will have four titles on offer. All small card games, all pretty cheap and in very limited quantities. There is no pre orders at StrataMax so get to booth 2 F-114 (that is in hall 2 for those not aware of the booth numbering system at Essen) early if there is something you want. It would be wrong of me not to promote their games a little wouldn’t it? The 3 new games ‘Bavarian Holiday’, ‘Princesses and Unicorns’ and ‘Sheepdogs’ are all Essen exclusive releases, there will be 100 copies of each of the games there and are priced €20 for Bavarian Holiday, €15 for Princesses and Unicorns and €10 for Sheepdogs. Airborne Commander will also be available to try and buy too. Those with a good memory will remember that this was their offering a couple years back with a very limited run of 100. This got very good reviews and the kickstarter Stratamax launched did amazingly well. They will have a limited number of copies of the Kickstarter version of Airborne Commander for sale at €25.


The fair itself has grown considerably with regards the number of exhibitors over the last few years. This year as well as the large halls 1, 2 and 3, halls 4, 6 and 7 (which a part of was used last year) will be used this year. I have fond memories of hall 4. Before the layout of the fair was altered a few years ago Hall 4 was where all the small companies were located and that was where the gems were to be found. It was also where the 2nd hand stands were too, so between the two there was enough in Hall 4 to keep me amused for a full day, plus it is only a small hall too. Now all the small companies seem to be spread all over the place, but maybe this year they have re-jigged it with the opening of halls 4 and 6.


Despite the absence of Treefrog, Martin Wallace fans do not fear, he will still be in attendance. He will be demoing A Handful of Stars at the PD Verlag booth, which is Hall 1 C108. For those not familiar with the booth numbering at Spiel. The first number indicates the hall the booth is located, the hall is divided into rows, which are the letters and the numbers go in order along the row, so PD Verlag can be found in Hall 1 on row C. This is where you can pick up an expansion for the awesome Concordia.


Spiel is not just about the games (what?!) It is also about the social side of things. I see friends from all over the world there each year. Games are a common ground, but there are sooooo many cool people from all over the world who go. This year for example I hope to get to Dortmund to see Borussia Dortmund take on Hertha Berlin, OK I miss a part of the show, but as a Football fan, what an opportunity it will be to experience one of the worlds most famous clubs and the Yellow wall. This is being arranged by my good friend Alex, Whom I first met in 2010 when his game Interstellar Mayhem was released and we have become good friends since. Thanks Alex. He now works at Digidiced, the company who brought us the Agricola: All creatures big and small app that I reviewed recently.


We also frequent a fantastic microbrewery/pub near the Hotel most nights and usually get fairly drunk. It is not often that we actually play games in the evening at the hotel, although the hotel is rammed full of gamers. I think last year I played about 3 games during the evenings, the rest of the time was having fun and spending time with friends whom I only see at Essen.


Anyway, what has caught my attention? I always use W. Eric Martins Geeklist on Boardgamegeek to do some research, but it is a time consuming endeavour as the list is huge. As I write this it is upto 30 pages. Right the first game to catch my attention was….


Prefect Crime from Grublin Games. It is a co-operative game where you can take on the role of bank robbers trying to rob the bank or the bank manager, trying to foil the pesky robbers. The theme is very interesting and it is the first co-op that I know about that has 2 different sides you can play. The unfortunate thing is that the published game will miss Essen by a few weeks. However they will have demo copies there to play. Even better is that they have a booking system. I have heard a couple of publishers using a booking system to get demos, but this is the first time I have experienced it, so I have booked myself on the 11am game on Friday, so if you want to find me in person, you know where I’ll be. If you like what you see you can pre order it (the game not me) for a November delivery for a discounted £29.95.

Pre orders and info can be found here:

Booking a demo can be found here:

What else? Argo from Flatlined Games. They did the excellent SteamRollers last year. It was so good I reviewed it without them asking me (A few friends asked for a review though)! I was keeping an eye out for any releases this year and they have done this. Aliens invade a space station and you have to race to get out. There is not enough space for everyone to get out either so only the quickest will escape. More info can be found here: and they will be at booth 3-O107


It is 75 years since the Escape from Colditz and the very famous game from the 1970’s is getting a redesign and release from Osprey Games.  The game is getting the works from Osprey with very fancy components, Peter Dennis doing the new artwork. The original game will be boxed in with the new version, just in case you don’t own the original. I played the old version a couple years back and for a big old game, it has aged well and was fun to play. I am intrigued by the new version and how it will play compared to the classic. You can pre-order it at for €55. More details are on the website. It is expensive, but I have heard from people who saw the prototype at Gencon that the production quality of the whole game is top notch. Osprey can be found at booth 7-C105


Race to the North Pole is a polar race game – there is a surprise. It looks nothing like Race to the South Pole the excellent push your luck dice game. There seems to be a bit more strategy involved and a lot of ‘Take that’ and I don’t mean the boy band here. It has a short game time which I think is ideal for a Take that sort of game, publishers are saying 45 mins, but I have heard that it plays a lot quicker than that. It is published by Playmore Games and can be found at booth 2-D129 and the show price for Race to the North Pole is €35.


Grey Fox Games will have 3 games on offer at Essen, 7 Ronin, London Dread and Order of the Gilded Compass. It is the latter that has my attention. It re-implements Alea Iacta Est, the excellent dice worker placement game from many moons ago, the one where you could send your workers to the latrine! In this game you are treasure hunters using maps to find said treasure. There are various different starting set-ups so you are not using the same one over and over, unless you want to of course. You can pre order a copy here: the price at the show will be €35 and can be found at booth 7-E112.


What else is grabbing my attention? Captain Sonar from Matagot, I have not looked too much into this but the theme has grabbed me, which seems similar to They Come Unseen which was released last year by Osprey, a friend, Alex (a different one) is pre-ordering it from the Matagot website, so I can play his copy anyway. Let us see if it is as good. They can be found at booth 3-E102. The pre-orders are €40.


What’s Your Game have published super complex games like Madeira in the last few years and I have struggled with a couple of rule books from them in the past for me to generally not pay them much attention, plus the themes of their games lately haven’t grabbed me. However I keep hearing more and more good things about them, I haven’t heard one person say anything bad about Nippon, their release from last year although I am still to try it. Over the past few years they have got Paul Grogan from Gaming Rules who is one of the best rulebook writers and game explainers I know to do their rulebooks now. So the fact that Paul is involved + not so complex + trains = interest. Their offering this year is called Railroad Revolution is available from booth 3-M100. At the time of writing I have no pricing information.


Guilds of London by Surprised Stare is one of the new games from UK Games Expo I am still to try and after the excellent Snowdonia and Ivor the Engine I hear you cry “Why not?” Good question, just a game I have not managed to get around to playing yet. I have heard lots of good things about this since the UKGE and if you fancy grabbing a copy at Essen be warned they are only have 300 copies to sell at the show. Luckily you can pre-order a copy by emailing The price is €45 and they can be found at booth 2-E119. This is one I’ll be keen to get a game of over the weekend.


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