Forthcoming Hotness — Essen Edition (plus some RPGs)

In boardgames, role-playing games on October 20th, 2006 at 1:15 am

Yep, honest to goodness content is back 🙂 Thanks for sticking with My Play during the slow period.

Essen is upon us once again, and boardgamers are engaged in their annual overstimulated frenzy. Either they are wandering a huge German convention centre in search of the Next Big Thing, or waiting at home, glued to the internet, waiting to hear from the lucky ones that have made the pilgrimage, and interpreting the entrails of their first impressions.

The best Essen reports I know of are Rick Thornquist’s report on his Boardgame News site and Frank Schulte-Kulkmann‘s coverage at his G@mebox site. There are many others, though, and most of them are off of my radar.

Here I shall present my pre-convention picks for the games I think are most likely to remove money from my bank account. Over the next few days, like every other boardgame addict on the planet, I shall end up rejecting some games I now think are can’t miss prospects and discover games that may be for me that I haven’t heard of yet.

Geek? Me? Never!


(Z-Man Games, René Wiersma)
I’ve had my eye on Gheos for several months now. Over the last couple of years, gamer’s games that are genuinely elegant and interesting designs have become surprisingly scarce. The major German publishers have become conservative, relying on family-oriented games and increasingly familiar mechanics. Filling the gamer’s game niche have been independant publishers, and as earnest as their efforts may be, they just do not manage the final step to true elegance that Bernd Brunhoffer of Hans im Glück or Stefan Brück of alea have nearly mastered.Gheos, a solo publication by Zev Schlasinger’s Z-Man Games, may break that trend.

While probably more of a light heavyweight — the luck factor seems moderate, but higher than that of a Puerto Rico or even Tigris & Euphrates — Gheos is a clean design that promises engaging strategic and tactical decisions. The standard high-concept pitch is Carcassonne meets T&E, but I grow increasingly impatient with misleading and subtly dismissive X-meets-Y descriptions. The rules [pdf link] are available on the Z-Man website, and if you take the time to examine them, I think you will see that Gheos stands on its own as a largely original strategic tile-laying game.

Architects of Arcadia

(Ravensburger, Rüdiger Dorn)

[Note: Architects of Arcadia is not the official English name for this game, since there is no announced English publisher yet. It is instead a rather literal translation of the German name.]

Rüdiger Dorn is in a heated competition with Reiner Knizia and Wolfganag Kramer for my favourite boardgame designer. While I have only played two of Dorn’s games — Goa and Louis XIVth — both have rocked my socks off with their intricately interwoven web of mechanics. While similar games from other designers come off as inelegant and annoying, Dorn manages to keep these intricate tapestries of rules flowing.

So now comes his latest, AoA, which you can tell is another complex design just from looking at a picture of the set up game. A superficial resemblance to Torres (the castle blocks) only serves to whet my whistle even more.


Through the Ages

(Czech Board Games, Vladimír Chvátil)

Ah, Civilization Light! Ye holiest of holy game design grails! Many are the designers who have sought you out, and many are the designers who have failed to even come close to a consensus success.

Now Vladimír Chvátil, designer of the little-known but much-praised fantasy boardgame Prophecy (aka Proroctví), is trying his hand. While I’ve never played a proper civilization boardgame (I’ve played the quasi-Civ game Vinci on Ludagora, and three of the Civilization computer games), this try holds a bit of promise. Essentially a card game, rather than a boardgame, Through the Ages may sidestep the two of the three most common civ-game problems (as identified by Chris Farrell) by de-emphasizing geography in favour of pure resource management (including military strength). If and how it deals with the rich-get-richer problem has yet to be seen.

Still, if this gets past the tougher reviewers like Chris and Michael Webb, this could be a must buy.


(Hans im Glück, Marcel-André Cassasola Merkle)

Okay, so the world needs another light-ish tactical tile-laying game like it needs another television sitcom about a bunch of friends who live together in Manhattan. Still, the computer-generated preview images of Taluva are eyecatching, and the three-dimensional element is unusual, if not quite unique. Mutterings of consistent kingmaking problems are a cloud on the horizon, though.

Call it a wait-and-see game.


(Mind the Move, Emanuele Ornella)

Look at the size of that freaking board!


Aside from that, Ornella and his company Mind the Move have a track record of buzz-worthy games (Oltremare and Il Principe). While they haven’t grabbed me enough to lay out money yet, They keep coming close enough that I have to keep an eye on their new product each year at Essen.

Hermagor is another game about merchants trying to trade goods across Europe like Oltremare, but Hermagor looks significantly heavier. The big “if” here is whether Hermagor has been developed ruthlessly enough to get the pointy bits out of the rules, a huge question that hovers over any heavier independent boardgame.

Here’s hoping.

Role-Playing Games

Just because Essen is the big event at this time of year doesn’t mean that role-playing games are all in hiding, waiting for the boardgame monster to stop sucking all of the hype-oxygen out of the room. In fact there are at least three very interesting releases on the horizon. All are creator-owned efforts because I have been unable to find a reliable and easy-to-use source of news on mainstream RPG releases.

Hopefully, someone will fill that niche soon.

Full Light, Full Steam

(Kallisti Press, Joshua BishopRoby)

Victorian steampunk has been tried once before in GDW’s Space: 1889, but this seemingly fertile ground for role-playing fun has since lain largely fallow.

Until now.

FLFS promises rollicking, but veddy proper, imperial fun and adventure across the solar system. Even though it is in the same tradition as Forge-related thematic games like The Shadow of Yesterday and Primetime Adventures, FLFS appears to take a more lighthearted, action-adventure slant on that style of game, balancing the moral quandaries with starship battles and a bit of derring-do. Although I believe the more serious games in this vein have a valid and important place in the market, it is nice to see a game that at offers a potentially lighter take without sacrificing the potential for more wrenching play.

It also offers my new favourite GM crutch — situation generation mechanics.

Joshua needs to come up with an evocative catchphrase for FLFS, though. Something like “For liberty! For Victoria! For Glory!”

Well, yeah, I’m sure he can come up with something better.

Spirit of the Century

(Evil Hat Productions, Fred Hicks and Rob Donaghue)

Pulp has an odd history within the world of role-playing games. Game designers love it, and game after game have been designed for the genre, dating back to Hero Games first edition of Danger International in the mid-80s. Most of them have quickly faded into the mists of time.

Now Spirit of the Century plunges into the breach, built around a revised and expanded version of the award-winning FATE system (also designed by Donaghue and Hicks), one of the best-developed FUDGE variants. FATE manages to promote well-developed characters and character-driven stories without getting too hippie about it. In fact FATE is crunchier than many mainstream “rules-light” systems.

Layered on top of FATE are a set of pulp-related systems for action, adventure, and taking over the world with grandiose plans, as well as a lot of discussion of just what it is that makes pulp fun, and how to bring it to life in your game sessions. Combined, this makes for a 420-page monster of a book, and while the price is steep, the potential is huge!

Cog Wars

(Levi Kornelsen)

[NOTE: Levi has not put up a website for his publishing imprint yet. When he does, I’ll link to it here. In the meantime, all available information about Cog Wars can be found at his LiveJournal]

Sometimes you just need something different to get your creative juices flowing. Sometimes if you have to deal with another orc or Klingon ripoff in your role-playing sessions, you’ll scream! If that’s the case, Cog Wars is just what the doctor ordered.

The player’s take on the role of, well, I’ll let Levi describe it.

A cog is a mechanical person, powered by clockworks, springs, and tanks of crystal fuel. It thinks using a brain made of tiny crystals and brass rods, sealed in a metal ball. It moves using joints filled with gears, spindles, bits that inflate and deflate, and other such gadgetry. A cog is always a machine; depending on who you ask, and about which cog, it might also be a person.


Even those that build cogs today don’t understand why some of them “wake up” and get personalities. Nobody but the Doctor really knows how they think at all, and the Doctor isn’t talking from his cell, even despite offers of early release. But the plans can be followed and adapted, and that’s enough. When a cog does wake up, they develop the ability to think in much the same way as a human does, and usually develop the ability to talk normally within a few days – though their ‘voices’ are often very unusual. There are cogs that speak and can be easily understood, whose voices are made up of creaking hinges, venting steam, low whistling and other contrivances.

An aware cog is legally treated as a citizen just like anyone else, except that they owe the cost of their own manufacture to their maker. Many manufactories, especially the infamous CogWerks, have taken as much advantage of this law as possible, accepting repayment only through work and paying the smallest wages they can, or creating work situations where small mistakes are common and adding huge sums to the debts of these workers each time a mistake happens. For these reasons among many others, a great many of the aware cogs have thrown in their lot with the rebels. There’s little else that they feel they can do.

-Levi Kornelsen, Tiran [Setting book for Cog Wars]

Of course you are one of the rebels 🙂

Levi has dreamt up several original mechanics to go with his original concept, and given his grasp of what makes for fun play, I expect that the sky’s the limit for this one.

That’s it for the second instalment of Forthcoming Hotness. I hope you’ve discovered something interesting here. Otherwise, why should I continue doing these? 😉

  1. Oooh. Thanks for the pointer to “Through the Ages”. The write-up indeed sounds pretty darn cool. My gut reaction to “no map” was that it would be silly, but this could work, and work very nicely. A 3-hour civ card game. Think of it!

  2. I’m intrigued by the sound of Gheos, although its “score completed continents” rule is reminiscent of Don Bone’s Sunda to Sahul – perhaps as part of a more interactive game? (We enjoy Sunda, but find it quickly becomes collaborative rather than competitive).

    There don’t seem to be any real stand-out games yet this year – although it is, of course, only day 1.

  3. I keep hearing more and more about Spirit of the Century. It sounds like one of those games I’m going to have to add to my collection eventually.

  4. Chris,

    What makes it do tempting to me is that I have been more and more drawn to the idea of a relatively mindless, rip-roaring, action adventure campaign or two, and SotC seems perfectly suited to that. Many light systems are…..bland, while many so-called action oriented systems are weighed down by crunch and inelegant combat systems. It sounds like SotC (and FATE in general) may be a happy medium.

    There are at least a couple of Actual Play threads on if you’re interested in reading more about it.

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