Essen SPIEL Recap 2022

Once more, the SPIEL fair at Essen has come to an end. It’s been a few intense days of looking, meeting, and, of course, playing. I took things a bit slower this year, not playing quite as many games and instead focusing on the enjoyment of those that I played. I think it worked well. Here’s what I particularly enjoyed.

Before going into the games, two other great things:

First, to me, this hobby is about the people. I’ve met many very amiable and interesting folks over the last few years through this blog and Twitter, and I was thrilled to meet some of them for the very first time in person at this year’s SPIEL! No matter if we chatted for a few minutes only or spent the evening discussing our experiences and plans for the next day over a beer, it was great to meet all of you.

And second, I loved the Research Day on Saturday which was dedicated to showcasing academic perspectives on board games (in accessible panel discussions). I’ve attended the panel on history in board games. As I thought that more people than the 100 taking up every single chair in the audience might find it interesting, I did a little live-report on it on Twitter:

It’s most encouraging to see that the SPIEL fair is taking board games seriously as a medium of cultural expression. Special thanks to my friends from Boardgame Historian for organizing this first Research Day!

Now, on to the games!

Dutch Resistance: Orange Shall Overcome (Marcel Köhler, Liberation Games Design)

This one was on my list of most anticipated games for the fair, so I headed there straight at 10am on my first day. After a quick chat with designer Marcel Köhler about the game, I could play a few actions in a scenario that revolved around bringing people in hiding to safehouses (so, in game terms, a pick up and deliver style of game). The mechanics result in a typical euro optimization puzzle (who can go where to get what in which order), but while playing, you also think about the setting a lot: The people in hiding need credible IDs to be moved, those who will house them will ask for something in return – be that money, contacts, or documents. All the while, you need to avoid checkpoints of the police and the German military and not arouse suspicion by hanging out at the same places too often or carrying too much with you. I particularly liked that the game was about a civilian resistance movement which just could not afford any kind of violent interaction with the occupiers. The game did a very good job of conveying this setting.

One person in hiding (orange hexagon) successfully moved to a safehouse!

War of the Ring: The Card Game (Ian Brody, Ares Games)

I love War of the Ring (Roberto Di Meglio/Marco Maggi/Francesco Nepitello, Ares Games), so of course I was curious how this new imagining of the full Lord of the Rings trilogy would play – particularly as it promises to be a bit simpler than the War of the Ring and play in half the time. The game was taught to us by an app (made by Dized) which explained all the steps very thoroughly (and with a dramatic voice). In my opinion, a good personal teaching is still the best way to learn a game, but it’s also a privilege that not everybody has – what if you’re the first person in your group to get a particular game or what if the most experienced player is just not very good at teaching? – So it’s very nice to have such an app.

The game itself pits the Free Peoples against the Shadow struggling over battlegrounds (where armies clash) and paths (where the ringbearers strive). Each side wants to play more characters (and their corresponding items) on either, plus armies on the battlegrounds. The locations specify what can be played on them – for example, Rivendell can only be defended by Elven and Wizard cards (and not Rohan cards, for example) and only be attacked by Monstrous cards (and not Isengard cards, for example). Winning a location will net you victory points, but as the attacker’s cards are always completely removed from the deck, you don’t want to overcommit (unless you are the Shadow fighting for paths, as they are not limited in how many points you can score there, which I learned the hard way).

Elrond defends Rivendell against a Hill-Troll… and Samwise Gamgee’s use of a Mithril Coat (which takes both the character and the item out of the game) will cost the Free Peoples dearly later.

One thing that I liked is that it seemed to work very well at three players. War of the Ring plays two to four, but is at its heart a two-player game – four is an epic experience, but maybe too chaotic for strategists, and three is a bit awkward, particularly for the player who plays by themselves (as the Free Peoples) but has to split their resources in a somewhat artificial way. Here, the game just comes with four factions – and the lone player (here, the Shadow – which I like because then more players can play the good side!) will take turns twice in a round, once per faction. Clean and simple.

While I enjoyed the game, I’m not sure if it would get to the table much. It feels a lot less epic and more abstracted than the War of the Ring, and so I’d normally reach for the latter if I felt like some Middle-Earth action.

Fire & Stone: Vienna 1683 (Robert DeLeskie, Capstone Games)

This was my highlight from this year’s SPIEL. I was curious about the game before, but I was not ready for the tense siege action that it presents. The Ottoman player has more troops, but also shoulders the heavy burden of attacking – all the long way from the glacis over the outer wall and the ravelin to the curtain wall. That requires a savvy combination of mining, bombarding, and assaulting – all the while under fire from the superior Hapsburg artillery and at risk of Hapsburg sorties which might not only increase the morale of the besieged, but also undo Ottoman progress or destroy their artillery batteries. If “siege” makes you think of a static affair, you couldn’t be more wrong – the Hapsburgs definitely need to mount active resistance to throw the Ottomans off balance and keep their own morale up.

In our game, my Ottoman forces entrenched themselves in the glacis before the outer wall and started mining to destroy this wall – in game terms, remove a structural fortification which would otherwise present a major obstacle to any assaults. However, my tunnels seemed to come up short every time – until I drew an event which would allow me to trade my bad mining tiles for a massive explosion which would affect two fortifications at once. My worthy opponent, however, thwarted me with an improvised sortie and kept me on my toes, until I could finally blast those fortifications. Subsequent attempts at assaulting the now-unfortified positions were repelled by the defensive valor of the Hapsburgs – which, together with the frequent barrages of the heavy artillery in Vienna depleted the Ottoman troops. In the spirit of allowing other people to try the game I conceded at this point.

The Ottomans attempt to break through the Hapsburg fortication with a double explosions… but a night battle forestalls their progress.

Since then, my mind has been filled with schemes how to take Hapsburg positions faster and preserve Ottoman lives better. I will have the opportunity to do so soon, as this was the only (full) game I acquired at the fair. (I also bought the “de Luxe” expansions for Friedrich and Maria (both Richard Sivél, Histogame).

Overall, the fair was once more a very pleasant experience. I’m looking forward to my next time!

If you went to SPIEL as well: What did you enjoy? And if you didn’t go: What are you looking forward to from this fair?


5 thoughts on “Essen SPIEL Recap 2022

  1. Boromir78

    I had the same experience with Fire & Stone. We were able to pull off a full game on Sunday afternoon with my significant other storming the Curtain Wall in the very last turn after an epic struggle. What a nice game! Very solid components, beautiful period artwork, a good back-and-forth action sequence and – not the least – a compact playing time of roughly an hour.

    Liked by 1 person

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