News from the Bottom Shelf

The holiday season is nearly upon us and in the board game world that means a glut of new game releases. Not only are games that premiered at GenCon finally starting to become widely available, but the Essen SPIEL, the largest European board game convention, is right around the corner and ready to flood eager gamers. To help wade the waters, I'll highlight a few games that have my attention. But it's not always about the latest and greatest as also highlight a couple of games that get a new lease on life.

The original art and title is shown above.

The original art and title is shown above.

Perhaps my most anticipated game comes from the mind that brought the world such great games as Agricola, Ora & Labora, and Caverna comes Fields of Arle. Slated to make its debut at Essen SPIEL, Uwe Rosenberg's latest brings something unexpected to his fans. Players will manage and develop their German estate by expanding farmland, creating goods and constructing buildings. Ok, that's pretty expected at this point in Rosenberg's career, but the fact that it is a 1 to 2 player game is unexpected seeing as how his last game, Caverna, plays 1 to 7. With an advertised play time of 1 to 2 hours, this should prove a substantial experience for the solo and 2-player gamers out there and hopefully justify the current $80 price tag. I don't know what it is about Uwe's pastoral sensibilities that strikes a chord with me, but considering the popularity of his games it isn't just me.

It only took one name to excite me for this one: S├ębastien Dujardin. As one of the designers credited for creating Troyes and Tournay, anything S├ębastien has a hand in should be on anyone's radar. Deus has players developing their civilization in hotly contested land where gods still roam. The art and multi-use cards intrigue me, but I fear it may lean towards the more abstract Tournay than the expertly crafted thematic experience that is Troyes. Either way, I'm sold on designer alone.

Nothing screams excitement like a simulation of the history of Greenland. This 3-player game has each player controlling three historic tribes as they try to eek out an existence in a harsh land. Food and weather are not your only concerns. Religion, politics, and marriage play an equally important role. Designer Phil Eklund is known for creating experiences that lean more towards simulation than game and for tackling such esoteric subjects as rocket science and the Mexican revolution. If you're intrigued by what you read hear, head on over and listen to the Long View Podcast's interview with Phil as they go in depth on this one.

Spielworxx is a publisher know for producing long, in-depth games, gamers' games if you will. They're also known for their limited print runs. This usually means that their games sell out before many reviews come out. There's a prestige element to owning their games, but by all accounts they're also very well made. Arkwright takes place during the industrial revolution in England and players own up to four factories, modernizing them and lessening the need for human workers. Your ultimate goal is to have the most valuable company which you can achieve by focusing on raw output, modernizing your factories or shipping goods to the east. If you're looking for a challenge, this may be one to jump on before it inevitably sells out.


On the lighter end of the spectrum is Magi Kitchen. The premise is as ridiculous as the game is sure to be. Magic students have used spells to drain vegetable of their color and the chef is in a predicament as his failing vision precludes him from identifying the correct ingredients for dinner. You play as helpful elves working to re-color the vegetables because apparently that's easier than simply telling the chef that he's holding a tomato.

The game play isn't all that unfamiliar for anyone growing up with a deck of cards. Every turn, players will reveal a card off the top of the deck. If that card matches any of the cards in front of a player, all players race to grab the matching vegetable in the center of the table. Like I said, not ground breaking, but what other game gives you an excuse to yell, "No! You grabbed my carrot!"?

Competing with Magi Kitchen for most ridiculous game is McJohny's, a real-time, cooperative game that has players running a popular crab shack. Each player will man a different station with its own mini-game associated with it and a manager who oversees the whole operation. Restaurant margins are thin, so you'll have to manage your budget carefully to have enough money at the end of the game to purchase something nice from the gift shop. 

There are plenty of games that will be shows at Essen, these are just a small sampling. If you've got a free afternoon, head on over to this comprehensive list put together by W. Eric Martin on Board Game Geek.

Ever since playing City of Iron, Red Raven Games became a company for me to keep an eye on. Not only is the art and production second to none, the games themselves have been met with critical praise. Not bad for a one man operation. One of Red Raven's early successes was Empires of the Void. Originally released in 2012, Empires of the Void is a galactic empire building game that has been difficult to procure much to my dismay. But fret no longer as designer/artist Ryan Laukut has announced War of the Void, a re-tooling of Empires of the Void and is actively searching for play testers. Play testing is actual work, but if you're willing to put in the elbow grease you could get the inside scoop on potentially on of the best games of the near future.

Designer Nick Hayden has created some ... uh, interesting games in his career. The one that's interested me most is After Pablo. The game takes place after the death of Pablo Escobar, leader of the Colombian cartel, in 1994. There's now a power vacuum and players are looking to fill it while remaining profitable. Perhaps my close proximity to the Mexican border makes me more aware and interested in the subject matter, but I love the fact that there is a designer out there willing to take on dicey subject matter. The only way someone could realistically create and sell such a game is through independent means. Nick Hayden is the embodiment of an independent designer and that means print runs are extremely limited and reprints are rare. After Pablo is nearly impossible to find without paying exorbitant prices, until now.  You can now get a copy of the game for as low as $10! If you're willing to assemble it yourself. I will likely never do so, but I like knowing that the option is there if I decide to try my hand at it.