Since neither JW nor I are going to Essen this year, we decided to do some online Spielunking and unearth the games we might be interested in trying out or buying if we went there. Our choices are not Kickstarter projects, since for us the Essen Spiel is primarily connected with straight-to-retail releases. We consulted Eric Martin's Spiel '21Preview list, and found a few gems we think are worth highlighting.
JW: Let's start with the game that has the Best! Title! Ever! Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes! - Because I need to have all games with capitals! We even had a thread about it, years ago on BGG.
I prefer this setting to the previous one, Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes. That was also missing the exclamation mark at the end. Which is plain lazy editing.
Athena: My first pick is Ark Nova. The animal cards in this one look good in my opinion, even though they are photographs.
Everyone says the gameplay is akin to Terraforming Mars. This suffices for me. I don't like the main board, it is way too long for my table but, if the solo mode is as good as in TM, I'll buy it and just be irritated every time I set it up.
Then we have Messina 1347. Underwater Cities is one of my favourite games, so I tend to take a second look when Vladimir Suchý puts out a new game.
This time there's rats, pestilence, and aristocrats who rush to save themselves and their workforce so that they can keep plaguing the land. I love that in the solo mode there is no bot to compete against but rather a blocking mechanism and a score that you will be trying to reach. I'm in.
JW: Yes, Messina 1347 is on my shortlist as well. One of my favourite novels is Conny Willis' Doomsday Book. So this particular medieval setting sounds right up my alley. Also, like you said, Suchý.
And, while we are in the Dark Ages: I'm not really interested in deduction games, but I must say Mortum: Medieval Detective sounds intriguing. I mean, "medieval European legends, superstitions and fears coming to life". Bring it on.
Athena: My main problem with medieval co-op Oltréé is that it reminds me too much of Ghost Stories, with a bit of flavour text added in. I probably don't need a second Ghost Stories in my collection, and I don't like narrative because it hurts replayability. That said, the Vincent Dutrait art makes it a beauty to look at, and it's probably engaging and fun to play. I'll have to think about it some more and watch a playthrough.
JW: Speaking of artwork, the colour scheme of Boonlake hurts so bad. Not only of the board itself, but then you put those yellow and blue meeples on it. Brrrr. 🤢
But hey, it's the next big Pfister. I'm going to check it out.
Athena: By the way, let me add my biggest disappointment from the con selection: The Siege of Runedar
As you can see in the pic above, this one is a cluttered mess and looks like a toy I might buy my 8 year old son, if I had one. The box-castle is a good idea in theory but didn't come out well in the end, and the numerous dwarf and goblin standees make the whole thing look childish and ugly. I'll let our resident Kniziaphile Zerbique judge if it's a good game but even if it is, it's really unappealing.
JW: Oh, we're doing disappointments as well? I don't have any. Or perhaps the second edition of Great Western Trail. It's one of my favourite games, and the changes in the new edition don't look bad. The included solo variant is probably similar to the fan made one I use now. But I really don't want to buy it again. Bummer.