Event Coverage: Biggest Game Show on Earth
Eddy Sterckx sends us his annual report from Essen 2014
Every year, when the leaves turn brown, a dreary city in the German industrial area of the Ruhr becomes the temporary home of the weirdest sort of people: those who enjoy pushing bits of wood and plastic around on cardboard maps. The town is called Essen, and the 150,000 people who flock to it are on a pilgrimage to the biggest boardgame trade fair in the world, with the objective to play and acquire as many of those cardboard boxes as they, or their wallet, can carry.
Hundreds of publishers present their newest games, and amidst all this cardboard mayhem there’s one publisher which stands out a bit and whose name should sound familiar to visitors of this website: Slitherine/Matrix also have a booth there to show their latest digital wargame releases, talk shop with wargamers visiting their stand, have face to face talks with their European designers, and make valuable contacts in the cardboard wargame world.
I got the chance to talk to designer Lukas Nijsten again about his upcoming Order of Battle - Pacific game and he confided to me that the main reason for the release being delayed is that he’s putting a lot of time and effort into making scenarios that look and feel historically accurate. The simple truth is that getting it right takes time, and to tide everyone over, here’s what you can look forward to: a set of screenshots from the recent play-testing of the Japanese campaign scenarios.
It was already announced some time ago, but Slitherine managed to get the license for the digital version of the cardboard wargame hit Heroes of Normandie: D-Day – a game which looks as if it was designed with tablets in mind, so this should be a very successful crossover wargame when it gets released.
Getting to talk to the Slitherine guys is both a blessing and torturous; a blessing because they talk freely about all the irons they have in the fire, the things they and their developers are working on right now, new deals in the pipeline, contracts where the ink on the paper is still wet, their hopes and their dreams. But it’s all off the record, so there’s none of that in this report. However I want to convey how optimistic and enthusiastic they are about the state and direction of the wargame hobby and Slitherine’s role in it, always looking to innovate and push the boundaries.
Ok, this ends the digital wargame part but there’s a lot more wargamey goodness to be found at the convention and as cardboard wargaming is enjoying what’s called a Second Golden Age, it shows in the number and quality of designs which get presented at the fair.
Let’s start with Academy Games, well-known for their Conflict of Heroes series and their amazing entry-level wargames 1812: The Invasion of Canada and 1775: The American Revolution. Big Boss Uwe Eickert allowed us to take pictures of a pre-production copy of their as yet unreleased Fief: France 1429 – a game of prospective dynasties struggling for military and political hegemony in medieval France.
It started out as Wings of War, a game of aerial combat in WWI, morphed into Wings of Glory and this ingenious system proved so successful that it even branched into the big license releases of Star Wars X-Wing, Star Trek Attack Wing and now D&D dragon fighting. The designers have now gone back to their wargame roots and released Sails of Glory – a tactical naval battle game set in the age of wooden ships and iron men and it looks pretty spectacular.
To continue the naval theme: Admiral’s Orders – Naval Tactics in the Age of Sail from Strategema Games focuses on the Napoleonic era and more specifically on the sea-battles between Britain and France. There’s a special edition with hand-crafted wooden ship models that harkens back to those naval games produced at the start of the 20th century.
And to further prove it’s a good year for naval wargamers there’s Armada Invincible by Russian company Zvezda, which tries to re-visit the naval battles of the 16th and 17th century at the lowest leve - individual ships fighting each other where you, as the captain, give orders to your crew. The simultaneous order execution makes this an exciting game of outguessing and outmaneuvering your opponent.
Released last year, but making its debut here: 7 Days of Westerplatte, a co-operative wargame where players – all playing as Polish commanders – try to coordinate against the German attack on this Polish Military Depot at the beginning of WW2. Historically the defenders held out for 7 days in what could be seen as the Polish Alamo.
To continue with those new wargame designs coming out of the former Warsaw Pact countries there’s Czas Honoru (Days of Honor) a fast-paced tactical card wargame which emulates the efforts of the Polish underground to recuperate V2 rocket fragments from the German secret test facilities and get them to London to be studied. Original theme and angle is the least of what you can say about this game.
To continue with the Polish theme, there’s also First to Fight, a game of which the name refers to the famous slogan and posters from WW2. This game looks at WW2 but totally from the Polish point of view as players take the role of Polish commanders fighting with Polish troops on the various fronts of WW2. In essence WW2 is the background story of this game, which is a pretty novel way of looking at it.
Supply has always been important in wargaming because as Napoleon once remarked “an army marches on its stomach”, so here’s a wargame where supply is the key focus and destroying the enemy supply lines the object of the game: QuarterMaster General, in which up to 6 players take on the role of a country on either the Allies or Axis side in WW2.
Another supply-focused wargame that already got a fair amount of attention in the regular boardgame world is Race to the Rhine in which you have to plan the Allied advance from D-Day to Berlin keeping the troops supplied with beans and bullets. Or gas for Patton’s tanks?
A game I felt also belongs in this list of wargames is Wir Sind das Volk (We are the People), which was the slogan of the East Germans when they revolted against their “people’s government” back in 1989. The game depicts the political struggle from the Berlin Airlift to the breaching of the Berlin Wall.
Here’s a game that was released a couple of years ago, but only now appeared in Essen is Popular Front – a strategic level game of both the military and political struggle that was the Spanish Civil War which is conceptually designed to be played by 2 teams instead of individual gamers.
In the alternate history category there’s Rivet Wars: Eastern Front, a tactical miniature boardgame set in a steampunk-like 1914 alternate universe. The game has a definite RTS computer game feel so might appeal to some here.