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12 board games to play at Essen Spiel 2022

Whether you’re looking for a sci-fi adventure or monster competition.

Image credit: La Boîte de Jeu

The biggest board game convention in the world is once again upon us. Essen Spiel 2022 is set to take place in Germany from October 6th to 9th, with dozens on dozens of exhibitors showcasing their various upcoming board games. Navigating the hustle and bustle of Essen Spiel is never the easiest task – believe us, we should know – especially when there are so many exciting tabletop titles to look out for.

Board games at Essen Spiel 2022

To make your convention experience that much smoother, we’ve gone through the hundreds of board games set to make an appearance at this year’s Essen Spiel to find the ones that you should actively seek out. From the much-needed revival of a classic to a brand-new entry in a popular series, there’s plenty to be excited about.

It’s been a difficult task, but we’ve managed to cut the list down to a dozen of the must-play board games at Essen Spiel 2022. Get your diaries out and make some notes, because you won’t want to miss these releases.

1. Challengers!

Capture the flag using superheroes, dinosaurs, rubber ducks and other weird and wild contenders

Artwork for the Challengers board game.
Challengers! crosses capture-the-flag with a deckbuilding game as players duel using quirky cards to be the ultimate winner.

Who expected board game studio Z-Man Games - the maker of Pandemic, Carcassonne, Love Letter and Citadels, among others – to reveal a capture the flag game featuring the strangest collection of characters this side of Dead of Winter’s gun-wielding pooch Sparky? If you’ve got your hand up, put it down – you can’t kid us.

Nevertheless, Challengers! is real and due to make an appearance at Essen Spiel 2022 ahead of its release in November.

In the whimsical mash-up of capture the flag and Dominion-style deckbuilding, players must build their team from an eclectic roster of over 70 characters including everything from dinosaurs and Hollywood stars to sci-fi aliens and, er, a rubber duck.

Watch the teaser trailer for Challengers!

Each character comes with their own unique abilities, which players can use to gain the advantage in one-on-one duels – with up to eight possible players competing in up to four simultaneous battles. (A single-player mode pits a lone player against an AI opponent.) The winner of each pairing advances to the next stage of the tournament, aiming to earn the most fans in order to make it into the final.

With its entertaining line-up of characters and card-driven take on classic CTF modes, Challengers! Looks to be something quite different for Z-Man – and absolutely worth checking out in person at the convention.

2. Puerto Rico 1897

A classic board game is given a new look and more inclusive approach

The original Puerto Rico is a great board game with a highly problematic theme. Puerto Rico 1897 aims to fix that.

The original Puerto Rico is a 2002 board game that sees players becoming the managers of a series of plantations – immediately, you can see the problem. Puerto Rico’s gameplay might be timeless, but its theme has always remained extremely problematic. The tabletop industry has a long history of hosting colonialist narratives, with Puerto Rico being far from the only board game enabling players to create empires built on slavery.

Which is why it’s fantastic to see that a new version of Puerto Rico is being released, one that focuses on the country’s native history instead of its colonisers. Created in partnership with a “culturally diverse and representative team”, Puerto Rico 1897 sees players becoming independent farmers who are each growing their own respective crops. Owning their own plots of land, each player will be able to develop their boards by adding new plots and buildings, as well as ships, using their profits and tools.

Many of the same components and gameplay elements will remain the same as the 2002 original. However, the changes in artwork and motivations represent important steps in the right direction for the industry – ones that will work towards making it and its audience a more inclusive place.

3. Starfinder: Pirates of Skydock

The popular tabletop RPG gets a board game spin-off

Starfinder: Pirates of Skydock layout image
Pirates of Skydock tasks players with pulling off a heist in the galaxy of sci-fi RPG Starfinder.

Though not as played as some of its contemporaries – namely Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder – Starfinder is a fascinating tabletop roleplaying game. Featuring its own collection of unusual playable species, vast array of worlds and rich tapestry of magic and technology, Starfinder offers a sci-fi setting that’s worth getting excited about.

If you’re not into tabletop RPGs or looking for something a bit different, board game spin-off Starfinder: Pirates of Skydock might be your way into the universe. Based on the legendary space station Skydock, the game sees players working together to pull off possibly the most ambitious heist the galaxy has ever witnessed: stealing an incredibly impressive spaceship. As this band of brave and stupid thieves, players will be performing different tasks to successfully board the ship, hack into its systems and pull away, all without being caught by Skydock’s notorious guards or the ship’s furious crew.

Each player will have their own selection of unique abilities, stats and equipment, depending on which characters they choose to control. Progressing through the game will enable players to unlock new and better abilities, which they’ll need if they’re going to get out of this in one piece. Let this be your gateway into the Starfinder universe.

4. Horizons of Spirit Island

A more accessible version of the hit co-op board game emerges

A look at the fully set-up board for Horizons of Spirit Island, a new beginner's version of the popular cooperative board game.
Horizons of Spirit Island was created as a lighter version of the acclaimed co-op board game. | Image credit: Greater Than Games

Spirit Island is an amazing co-op board game. Combining the theme of anti-colonialism with collaborative gameplay, Spirit Island provides the kind of unforgettable tabletop gaming experience that players rave about for years after.

As good as Spirit Island is, it’s not necessarily the most beginner-friendly of board games. Which is where the upcoming Horizons of Spirit Island come in. After US retail chain Target requested that Spirit Island be toned down to provide its clientele with a more approachable title, Horizons of Spirit Island was born. Designed to provide a pared-down experience, Horizons of Spirit Island is a smaller and more affordable version of the co-op game, offering less-experienced players a good entry-point.

We recommend some of our favourite co-op gamesWatch on YouTube

Though the title will still include the same nail-biting co-op gameplay, with players working together as gods to stop the colonisation of an island and its native people, Horizons will feature a roster of gods with more straightforward abilities. The new gods include the feline Sun-Bright Whirlwind – who can quickly scare off colonisers – and the aggressive Devouring Teeth Lurk Underfoot. If you’ve ever been put off by the price point or complexity of Spirit Island, Horizons is a must-see.

5. Pan’s Island

The beloved children’s character flies into his own board game adaptation

Treasure Island designer Marc Paquien returns with a similar tabletop game of hide-and-seek - this time, featuring Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys.

Some characters endure indefinitely. Having appeared in Disney animated films and Steven Spielberg blockbusters, Peter Pan remains an undeniably popular character. It certainly helps that the licence for the character created by JM Barrie has been in the public domain for a while, enabling all sorts of adaptations. One such adaptation is the upcoming Pan’s Island, a board game featuring the boy who never grows up and all his friends.

A deduction game about effectively communicating information, Pan’s Island has players sharing clues in order to successfully find the Lost Boys, who have – ironically enough – gotten lost. From the designer behind board game Treasure Island, Marc Paquien, Pan’s Island has players collaborating to find the lost children as such notable characters as Wendy, Tinker Bell and Peter himself. Throughout the game, players share clue cards with one another in an effort to direct their collaborator towards the location of the lost child they hid at the start of the game.

Using the information provided, the other player moves across the island hunting for the right areas and, crucially, avoiding anywhere there might be a vicious pirate hiding. Each new playthrough offers a fresh experience, with the layout of the island and location of the children and pirates being randomised every time. If you’re searching for a family board game to share with your loved ones, Pan’s Island might fit the bill.

6. Tribes of the Wind

A gorgeous card game pays homage to a Studio Ghibli classic

With an obvious visual and thematic debt to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Tribes of the Wind sees players looking to rebuild a world blighted by pollution.

Tribes of the Wind isn’t Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Board Game, but it may be the next best thing for fans of the classic Studio Ghibli movie and Hayao Miyazaki manga.

Set in a world devastated by pollution (sound familiar?), the card game tasks players with clearing out contamination, planting forests and building up places for their tribe to live in harmony with nature.

To do so, they’ll send out wind riders (sound familiar?) to chart the land and gather resources in the form of elemental cards before constructing villages and temples for bonus points and abilities. Wind turbines can help blow away pollution, while catapults and wind portals can send wind riders soaring quickly across tiles.

Many of the cards come with specific requirements before being played or activated, requiring players to compare the number and type of cards with those of their neighbours – requiring careful planning to ensure you can get the most out of the cards in your hand on every turn.

Once a player builds their fifth village, points are calculated based on pollution levels, villages, temples, forests and other factors, determining a winner.

Tribes of the Wind’s strategic cardplay by designer Joachim Thôme is brought to life by prolific artist Vincent Dutrait (Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Yellow & Yangtze), who unsurprisingly cites Nausicaä and the work of Ghibli as a major influence on the game’s sumptuous environmental and naturalistic world.

A limited number of English-language copies of Tribes of the Wind will be at Essen Spiel, ahead of the game's planned US release in 2023.

7. Vivarium

Make scientific discoveries on an unexplored continent in this eye-catching card game

Playing in under 30 minutes and using a modest set of cards, Vivarium looks to be a compact game of exploration and discovery.

In Vivarium, players become natural scientists in search of new discoveries on a mysterious uninhabited underground continent at the turn of the 19th century.

The upcoming board game uses a modern spin on the traditional game of dominoes, as players connect a domino from their hand with one in the middle of the table to form different number combinations. The numbers they form determine which cards they can take from a grid of cards, with one number representing the row and another the column.

Cards represent the creatures discovered by players – which score victory points – as well as equipment that help with both scoring and gaining cards, and contracts that can be fulfilled for bonus VP by collecting specific types of creatures or equipment.

Designer Frédéric Vuagnat’s fresh take on dominoes joins artist Satoshi Matsuura's colourful menagerie of fantastical creatures, which range from mushroom-shelled tortoises to bugs and adorable birds.

Taking under half an hour to play with two to four players, this promising compact card game looks to be one of Essen Spiel 2022’s hidden gems. Seek it out and go on your own voyage of discovery.

8. Splendor Duel

An intimate two-player version of the jewel-trading board game

Splendor Duel trims down the card-collecting gem (see what we did there?) to a two-player experience.

When done right, two-player versions of existing board games can be seriously excellent. From 7 Wonders Duel to Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, it’s surprising just how many board games translate well into two-player versions of themselves. Here’s hoping that Splendor Duel, the new iteration of the jewel-trading game that pits players against each other in a head-to-head contest, continues this particular trend.

The original Splendor is a fast-paced board game about buying and trading with gems of varying value, with players gradually gaining access to more expensive cards as they develop their existing collection. At its best, Splendor is a speedy and extremely accessible engine-building game – with players opening up more options by performing actions – that pushes players to anticipate their opponents’ moves as well as form their own strategies. Which is why a two-player version makes perfect sense, as it will no doubt only serve to heighten the game’s very competitive nature.

Wheels introduces Lolies to SplendorWatch on YouTube

Whilst the gameplay of Splendor Duel will be much the same as its predecessor, it will feature a collection of cards that give players significant advantages over their opponents and an entirely new gem in the form of pearls – which will be reportedly very rare. If you like Splendor or just enjoy two-player board games, keep an eye out for Splendor Duel.

9. Terra Nova

Finally get on the Terra Mystica train with this simplified version of the board game

With lighter rules and a faster playtime, Terra Nova aims to provide a beginner-friendly introduction to strategy favourite Terra Mystica.

Terra Mystica is as beloved as it is difficult to learn. An enormous, sprawling fantasy board game about rival factions competing for land and victory points, Terra Mystica is not for the faint of heart. Its complexity may be a major reason as to why many players like it, but it’s also a big reason why a lot of people are put off from giving it a go. This is exactly why the incoming arrival of Terra Nova, a simplified version of Terra Mystica, is so welcome.

Rather than an experience lasting several hours – as the original game provides – Terra Nova boils things down to a much more manageable 60 to 90 minutes, with the title supporting one fewer player than the five-player original. The new version is also set to feature multiple modes for just two players. Whilst the gameplay will remain largely the same as Terra Mystica, it will feature a smaller selection of playable factions for players to choose from: cutting the number from 14 down to 10.

The game sees players taking control of a chosen faction with the aim of gathering victory points, which can be done in multiple ways. Players will have different abilities to use depending on the faction they pick, with each one having their own unique advantages and disadvantages. As players progress through the game, they’ll unlock new abilities that will enable them to spread their influence, acquiring more power points that help them to perform spells. Eventually, players can gain points by completing particular objectives by the end of the round and controlling the most land at the end of the game.

For those who have always wanted to try Terra Mystica but find its complexity daunting, Terra Nova might be the next game for you.

10. King of Monster Island

The King of Tokyo series goes co-op

King of Monster Island is the first co-op entry in the King of Tokyo series - and includes a 3D volcano for rolling dice!

King of Tokyo has cemented itself as somewhat of a modern classic since Richard Garfield’s monster-fighting dice game first hit tables back in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen a number of expansions, a full sequel go Stateside in King of New York, a grimdark spin on the original for its 10th anniversary and, now, the series swap its competitive kaiju contest for a co-operative boss battle.

King of Monster Island sees players team up to try and take down a single big bad before it’s able to tear open a doorway to another dimension. Bosses can summon minions to serve as obstacles, with players needing

It wouldn’t be a King of... game without dice rolling, and King of Monster Island is no different. Players will have up to three rolls each turn to deal damage, gain energy – which can be spent on special powers – and heal themselves or allies.

The team play King of Tokyo: Dark Edition, released to mark the series' 10th anniversaryWatch on YouTube

Joining the familiar faces from previous games are new dice faces that let players move around the game’s central board to chase down the boss, summon support from humans – granting bonus dice results and energy – and gain fame, which can be spent on calling in ally characters or slowing the boss’ own powers.

Complete with a 3D volcano that sits in the centre of the board and serves as a dice roller for the boss, King of Monster Island is shaping up to be an even bigger blockbuster monster battle than its predecessors.

After its reveal at Essen Spiel last year, King of Monster Island will see its release at Essen Spiel 2022. It’s certain to be a monster hit.

11. Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Flamme Rouge designer swaps bikes for cars in this 1960s motor racing game

An image of the components for Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Heat: Pedal to the Metal is one of the big releases from Ticket to Ride maker Days of Wonder at this year's Essen Spiel.

Asger Harding Granerud, designer of beloved bike-racing board game Flamme Rouge, is turning his attention from bicycle pedals to a very different kind of pedal in Heat: Pedal to the Metal.

Granerud is joined by co-designer Daniel Skjold Pedersen – with the two having previously worked together on colourful tile-placement gem Copenhagen and overlooked diving game Deep Blue. The upcoming board game also sees the pair reunite with Ticket to Ride publisher Days of Wonder.

Heat puts players in the cockpit of 1960s racing cars as they speed around the board’s track hoping to cross the finish line first. To stay ahead of the pack, players must manage the cards in their hand carefully, shifting gears and using speed cards to outpace their opponents but avoiding overheating their engine – represented by heat cards that can ultimately slow them down.

The card-powered competition on the track is paired with customisation of cars before they leave the garage, with players able to select upgrades to help with their car’s control and cooling and help them account for changeable driving conditions such as weather, the road itself and other events.

While Heat can be played in single races, the game also includes a full championship mode for playing multiple races as part of a complete season, with players needing to adjust their car for each race. The game includes the ability to fill out each starting grid with AI opponents, supporting a solo player in the single-player Legends mode.

With two acclaimed designers and a beloved board game studio behind it, Heat looks to be one of the hottest releases of the year – and it’ll be zooming into Essen Spiel ahead of its release later in 2022.

12. Arborea

This woodland wonder is a feast for the eyes – and mind

Arborea looks stunning - and has plenty of gameplay depth to boot.

Could 2022 prove to be the year of gorgeous, clever board games about living in harmony with nature? Between the likes of Wingspan creator Elizabeth Hargrave’s The Fox Experiment, the upcoming Tribes of the Wind and Vivarium – both also making an appearance at Essen Spiel 2022 – and Arborea, all the signs point to yes.

Arborea brings a psychedelic palette to its naturalistic theme, turning players into woodland spirits looking to guide the villagers of their forest. They’ll do so by placing workers – represented by beautiful forest spirit meeples – on a series of tracks that wind their way down the board. As each track advances, all of the workers on it will move along, accessing greater rewards depending on how far they travel.

As well as pursuing their own ends, players will have the option to work together – albeit temporarily. Each player can contribute to a shared resources track to score points or, optionally, take from the track to benefit their personal ecosystem on a separate player board.

Arborea will play with up to five people in a couple of hours, as well as having a solo mode. Dice Hospital and Chocolate Factory publisher Alley Cat Games describes its complexity as being “medium-heavy”, so expect plenty of gameplay depth from designer Dani Garcia behind Nico Gendron and Javier Inkgolem’s gorgeous illustrations.

Arborea is due to hit Kickstarter towards the end of this year or into early 2023, but you can get an early look at the upcoming release with a demo of the board game at Essen Spiel 2022.

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