118 – Top Picks from Essen 2018

Internationale Spieltage SPIEL '18

Essen Game Fair (Internationale Spieltage SPIEL) is the world’s largest boardgame trade show. No one could hope to cover everything (and we won’t try!) We brought Nick on to help us with our top picks from Essen Spiel, accumulated through BoardGameGeek and other media.

Did you know that in Germany, 118 is the directory inquiry phone number? We’re going to give you the 1-1-8 on Essen Spiel!

What We’ve Been Playing

Since Halloween just passed, Nick has been playing lots of Monster Crunch, and a lot of Batman: The Animated Series Dice.

They also tried cute ghostly puzzle BOO and they’re still playing a ton of Dinosaur Tea Party, of course.

Smith family dressed up as Paladins of Voltron

The closest we got to having everyone in full costume at the same time.

Nick played Camel Up (Camel Cup?) for the first time and really enjoyed it, and finally had a reasonable showing in Small World.

Andrew and Anitra have been really busy with Halloween preparations. We finally wore our Voltron costumes, and everyone thought we were Power Rangers (of course).


On their anniversary, Andrew and Anitra finally beat a game of Spy Club! We figured out that a key to solving a case completely is to heavily manage the movement of the suspect pawn to limit the “bad things” that can happen. Now that we’ve won once, we’re ready to start the mosaic campaign mode and write a review! (Spoiler: We really like it.)

We got in a few plays of Chupacabra: Survive the Night. Not much strategy here, but it’s a fun “spooky” 10 minutes, stealing other players’ dice.

Peaceable Kingdom sent us two games. Gnomes at Night is a vertical two-sided puzzle. Players must move through the maze on their side without going through walls – but may drag the other magnetically-connected pawn through the walls they can’t see. Also a clever turn-taking mechanism that allows for “team” play, extending the game to allow up to 4 players.

Catch! 4 cat pawns, 1 mouse pawn.Catch! is another cooperative game; players move cats to trap a mouse. The mouse’s moves are determined by a die and are unpredictable. Anitra was pleasantly surprised that such a simple game could have the same tension we’d expect from a more complex cooperative game like Pandemic or Forbidden Island.

Andrew and Claire played Machi Koro, and it still suffers from the runaway winner problem, exacerbated by the luck of the dice rolls. We might look into Space Base or Valeria Card Kingdoms instead.

Tournament of Towers – Draft cards that determine which pieces you can use in your tower. We reviewed this a year and a half ago, and the interview with Donovan and Jeff is one of the most fun we’ve ever done. The pieces in the final version are so solid and fun to build with, that we just couldn’t stop playing with them.

VISITOR in Blackwood Grove – Andrew picked this up at Boston FIG a few weeks ago, and had a chance to play it with some friends last week. He made some unfortunate choices, but it was a good learning experience.

Steampunk Rally – Race zepplins and don’t take too much damage. Add parts, get dice to activate powers and assist your movement/defense, etc. Remove zepplin pieces to pay for damage; only your cockpit must make it over the finish line! Frenetic feeling, simultaneous play.

SNAP ReviewMr. Wolf getting close

Corey and his daughter Sasha review Where’s Mr. Wolf?, a great cooperative game for preschoolers and their grownup helpers. Sasha says it’s her “favoritest” game.

Essen 2018

There’s no way we could cover all 1200+ games that were at Essen 2018. Instead, we pull out just a few highlights.

Sagrada is getting three new expansions. The first one, The Passion, is coming out in the spring. New player powers and a new color. Anitra is irrationally excited.

Farmer Olaf is a super-portable card game that has a special box dispenser so that you can play it without even needing a table. Sounds like it’s resource management with a hefty amount of trading with the other players.

Camel UP – a new version of Camel Cup from Pegasus Spiele and eggertspiele (an imprint of Plan B Games). This new version looks like it’s been streamlined and has stronger components.

Potion Explosion: The 6th Student expansion. This introduces a new ingredient; new potions, and most importantly, a plastic dispenser!

Once Upon a Castle – a tile placement game from Blue Orange. Roll dice, lay disks on your player mat. When you complete a column or row, draw/color in the doodle castle with the appropriate piece. Combines many aspects into a simple engaging game.

The River from Days of Wonder – build your settlement along your own riverbed, using worker placement and resource collecting. Nick loves town-building games, and it’s even more appealing if he can play it with his kids.

EXIT Kids: Code Breaker – we love both EXIT and Unlock, but many are too hard or too scary for our kids. This gives several tools to kids to figure out how to solve a puzzle and unlock a lock. 60 different puzzles can be completed either in a timed mode or in a less-frantic “Chrono” mode. Our kids love watching videos of parent-built “escape rooms”; this seems like just as much fun, without Mom & Dad needing to invest hours to set up. Unfortunately, it’s only available in German for now.

Trapwords – a new word game from Czech Games Edition. Fantasy-themed, this is much like Taboo, except the opposing team will pick the words you’re not allowed to say… and you don’t know what your forbidden words are! Sounds like an intriguing twist and reminds us a little bit of CrossTalk.

Spring Meadow, a successor to Cottage Garden and Indian Summer by Uwe Rosenberg. Play polyominos to transform your snowy mountain into a spring meadow.

Anitra’s not terribly excited for Patchwork Express (simpler, faster Patchwork), but she is excited for Patchwork Doodle – a “draw cards and write” game. draw cards and then color the quilt pieces into place. Patchwork Doodle promises to introduce new abilities such as breaking a piece in half to fit the two halves into your quilt.

The Color Monster from Devir Games – A cooperative memory game; players pick up “emotion tokens” and put them in the right jars. What an interesting way to approach talking about emotions!

Paleolithic – a super cute, entry-level worker placement game. Published by a Taiwanese company, we’re really hoping this makes it over to the United States.

Kero – Two player resource management with a timer aspect! The timer is disguised as a tractor-trailer; “refuel” your timer while the other player rolls dice. We like the idea of using time as a resource, just like David Wilkinson’s In The Time of Dragons (which we mentioned at Boston FIG).

Lightning round!

DC Spyfall – awesome twist to Spyfall if you like DC heroes and villians (which we do…)

Roll & Wall – a roll and move game where part of the board becomes a dice tower!

Gingerbread House – a polyomino game from Phil Walker Harding (designer of Barenpark). Stack pieces to build a 3D house.

Pyramid of Pengqueen – from Brain Games (Ice Cool). A vertical game board and magnetic pieces. One person controls the mummy, everyone else is trying to grab treasure before the mummy can find them.

Rolling Ranch – roll & write. You’re a rancher whose fences blew down and all the animals ran away. Go rescue them!

Layers – from Happy Baobab – A speed puzzle; replicate the image you see with the cut-out tiles available to you.

Cupcake Empire – A dice rolling worker placement game to manage your cupcake store! Nick is making us hungry…

A few more expansions we’re excited for:

Bärenpark – adds grizzlies, new goals, and a monorail.
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure HuntersCreepy Cellar Expansion makes this family cooperative game even more challenging!
Meeple Circus – more pieces, more challenges.
REEF – already?

More games getting a kids’ version:

EXIT (as previously mentioned)
Magic Maze – we’ve mentioned in the past. Looks interesting.
Concept – we’d love to try this!
Captain Sonar – frenetic fun for all ages.

One last game from Nick! Train Maker from AEG and Chris Leder (Roll For It!) – streamlined from the original version. Roll dice, push your luck, match your dice to cards to build your train.

We’ll certainly have more when we go to PAX Unplugged next month – but if you think we missed something from Essen that was your favorite pick, let us know!

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We are a proud member of the Dice Tower Network, and you’ll be able to find us in the Dice Tower booth at PAX Unplugged. See you there!