It's less than a month until Essen Spiel, the largest tabletop gaming convention in the world. Taking place between the 5th and 8th October in the Germany city, Essen Spiel 2023 looks to be yet another show that’s jam-packed with all sorts of board games. The convention isn’t just the ideal way to pick up any board games you’ve had your eye on this year - it’s also a great place to try out some of the most exciting upcoming board games.
Board games at Essen Spiel 2023
- The A.R.T. Project
- Kutná Hora: The City of Silver
- Sky Team
- Forest Shuffle
- General Orders: World War II
- Age of Innovation
- Kingdomino Moon River
- The White Castle
- Isle of Trains: All Aboard
There will be options for players to purchase board games just released at Essen – sometimes weeks before their worldwide release – but why not take the opportunity to try them out before buying them? Otherwise, Essen gives the rest of the tabletop gaming world a good idea of which titles to look out for when they do eventually launch outside of the convention.
Not everyone going to Essen or following it is going to have a clear idea of what to look out for there, especially as the show looks to feature hundreds and hundreds of games.
We’ve gone through all the titles set to be featured at this year’s Essen Spiel convention and picked out the ones we think are going to make a splash. If you’re going to the show, be sure to look out for these board games. Otherwise, this list should provide you with an overview of what upcoming board games are worth putting on your watchlist.
1. The A.R.T. Project
A co-op board game about rescuing priceless artwork from nefarious criminals
The White Hand has struck again! The A.R.T. Project is a co-op board game that sees players working together as the Art Rescue Team. As this group of intrepid, globe-trotting individuals, the players must track down the location of various pieces of artwork stolen by the nefarious organisation known as The White Hand. As a team of specialists, the players will travel across the world in order to find and recover priceless art.
At the beginning of every round, each player draws two mission cards, with the entire group then deciding on the play order of that round. Players will need to think carefully about which player goes when, as all the resources are kept in a common supply that is accessible by everyone. Alongside resources to help players travel, there are items to assist them in discovering the location of the stolen artwork, as well as retrieving it.
Players will need to successfully save a total of seven pieces of artwork in order to win the game. However, they’ll be working against a ticking clock, as the game is over if they reach the end of the mission deck before the players achieve their objective. Players who enjoy co-op board games should keep their eyes out for The A.R.T. Project at Essen Spiel 2023.
2. Kutná Hora: The City of Silver
A rich and dense board game with its own changing economy
Set during the 14th century within the historical Czech town, Kutná Hora: The City of Silver is a board game that sees players constructing buildings and expanding their own business empires. After the discovery of silver next to the Cistercian Monastery nearby, Kutná Hora became a thriving town within central Europe during the 1500s, with people travelling across the continent to trade for some of the rare metal.
Players take the role of business owners who are looking to grow their wealth and the town of Kutná Hora itself by developing its infrastructure. During the game, players will need to acquire various resources in order to build the different structures, which include Saint Barbara’s Cathedral. Getting these resources will require players to negotiate around the game’s economic system, which responds directly to what people are buying throughout the game. For example, the more people who purchase wood, the more expensive the resource becomes as its supply lessens under demand.
Depending on which guild players have chosen, they’ll have an easier time getting certain resources than others – as each guild will have unique rates on specific resources. This means that players will have a different experience every time they play, thanks both to the guilds and responsive economy. Those players who enjoy a rich gameplay experience to get their teeth into would do well to try Kutná Hora: The City of Silver.
3. Sky Team
Attempt to successfully land planes across the world in this two-player game
Landing a plane doesn’t look easy and two-player board game Sky Team reflects this accurately. In Sky Team, players must work together to successfully navigate and land plans on various airstrips. The consequences for failing to pull off a careful landing are pretty severe – at least in the narrative of the board game – so players need to be clever and communicate effectively.
While one player assumes the role of pilot, the other will be their co-pilot, with both roles being of equal importance. To land the plane, players will need to place their dice into the correct spaces within their airplane cockpit without communicating, ensuring that its wings remain balanced throughout. Alongside this, players need to complete the numerous procedures required to land the plane: managing the aircraft’s speed, deploying the flaps, extending the landing gear and ensuring that the control tower at the landing strip is aware of your imminent arrival.
Should players fail to keep the plane balanced or miss the runway, then they’ve likely sacrificed their careers and possibly their lives. Sky Team is a quick board game that’s perfect for two players to crack into and test their abilities of cooperation and communication, without actually having to fly a plane together.
4. Forest Shuffle
Build a balanced ecosystem by planting trees and attracting different species
The first and most arresting thing about Forest Shuffle is its artwork, which depicts various examples of natural beauty. The goal of the game is to create your own ecosystem by combining various trees with the species that would live in or around them. The more valuable your trees are, the better, but players will still need to ensure that their environment is balanced.
At the start of the game, players have six cards in their hands. Each depicts either a type of tree or two forest dwellers, which can be either a plant, mushroom or animal. The cards displaying a forest dweller will be split in half, each half featuring the different creature. On their turn, players can either draw two cards from the deck or the clearing, or can play a card from their hand. Playing each card costs players an amount of cards discarded from their hand. Whenever a player places a tree, they’ll draw a card from the top of the deck and place it in front of them. Playing a dweller card will instead see them placing it underneath an empty side of a tree that matches the type of dweller card.
When the third winter card is revealed from the bottom of the main deck, the game ends and players add their points up based on the trees and dwellers they played. Whichever player has the most points by the end is the winner. For a simple card game you’ll play again and again, be sure to keep an eye out for Forest Shuffle.
5. General Orders: World War II
The co-designers of Undaunted strike out with another WWII board game
The Undaunted series has seen a very positive reception for a reason; they’re fantastic board games that capture a side of the historical event that few other tabletop titles have achieved. So, it makes sense to be excited that its co-designers, Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson, have made a brand-new World War II board game called General Orders: World War II.
As well as being another WWII-themed board game from the designer duo, General Orders: World War II also shares the similarity with the Undaunted series of being a two-player game. However, unlike Undaunted, General Orders sees players placing their commanders on the board to perform various actions. As leaders of opposing armies, players will need to secure control over key points of the battlefield: either in the Italian mountains or the Pacific islands, by using their respective commanders in a worker-placement game. As players successfully seize important assets they’ll be able to unlock powerful abilities that could give them the advantage over their opponent. However, they’ll have to make sure that the other player doesn’t get to do the same.
As they secure their strategic objectives and advance, players will have to keep an eye on their backline, or risk seeing their crucial supply line be disrupted or be ambushed from behind by aerial assault or artillery barrages. Fans of military board games, and people who want to give them a try, will likely enjoy General Orders: World War II.
6. Age of Innovation
A spin-off from the beloved Terra Mystica
Terra Mystica has the well-earned reputation of being an incredibly complicated - if well-designed - board game. Not everyone is going to want to dive into the extensively detailed resource-management and city-building systems found in the original Terra Mystica, which is why it’s great to see the arrival of several new titles in the series that look to offer a more accessible experience.
The first of these was last year’s Terra Nova, which was a more straightforward streamlined version of the original Terra Mystica. The second of these is Age of Innovation, a brand-new board game that’s set in the same world as Terra Mystica. Despite sharing the same setting as the fantasy board game, Age of Innovation differs from its predecessor in that it’s a more focused experience. Rather than having players juggle many different balls, Age of Innovation looks to provide players with only a few.
Players choose from a variety of different factions, homelands and abilities, with each combination producing a unique gameplay experience. As their chosen faction, players will terraform the map in order to construct various buildings, which they can then upgrade to gain additional resources. Different buildings will produce different benefits, so players will need to think about which ones will work best with their factions. For people who have been interested, but intimidated, by Terra Mystica, or just want more of its world, would do well to hunt down Age of Innovation.
7. Kingdomino Moon River
The next entry in the Kingdomino series takes things to the Wild West
From a fictional fantasy kingdom to prehistoric times, the Kingdomino series has already travelled a fair bit in its time. The latest entry in the family board game franchise is Moon River. Instead of grand castles and ferocious dragons, Moon River is concerned with the vast deserts and intrepid cowherds of the US frontier.
As to be expected, Moon River will feature the same core gameplay as the other entries in the Kingdomino series, with players taking turns to draft and place dominos to score points. The main difference here - besides the western setting - is that players will be able to combine different domino halves to create their own custom dominos. Players will be able to take different domino halves, put them together and place them into their play area - with the goal of creating large areas of the same type of domino that include one of the game’s adorable cow meeples.
Scoring with roaming cow meeples, instead of the stationary crowns in the original Kingdomino, means that players will be able change where they score points from during the game thanks to the help of some trusty cowherds. By employing cowherds, players can force their cow meeples to move – potentially netting them more points if they find themselves collecting more of a certain time of domino. Anyone who enjoys the gameplay of the Kingdomino series or any straightforward family game will likely want to check out Moon River.Dicebreaker players the original Kingdomino.
Play a tense game of cat-and-mouse in this next title from the studio behind Burgle Bros.
Burgle Bros. and its sequel are two fantastic board games that demonstrate a mastery of creating tension. The publisher behind the Burgle Bros. series, Fowers Games, continues to run with the tension-building in its next coming board game, Run. Rather than having players working together against a watchful AI, Run sees players competing directly against one another.
A two-player board game that features hidden movement gameplay, Run has players taking the role of either the runner or the dispatcher. As the runner, players will need to speed across the city’s skyline in order to escape the pursuit of their opponent, the dispatcher. While the runner will have access to an arsenal of gadgets, the dispatcher has both a helicopter and a patrol car at their disposal. This setup makes for an asymmetrical system in which each player has a very different way of interacting with the game, as well as opposing goals.
As a hidden role game, Run challenges the runner to divert the dispatcher and keep them off their tail for long enough to get away. Whereas the dispatcher must use their deduction skills to figure out the runner’s route and, eventually, their location. The runner has a limited supply of movement tiles, meaning that the player will need to think carefully about their escape plan, whilst the dispatcher will have to take whatever clues they can from this. Seek out Run at Essen Spiel for an intense two-player tabletop experience.
9. The White Castle
The designers of The Red Cathedral turn their attention towards Japanese history
Taking place in the iconic Himeji Castle in Japan, The White Castle is a new board game from the co-designers of the historical Russia-set title The Red Cathedral: Sheila Santos and Israel Cendrero. Featuring artwork and a setting that fully embraces Japanese history, The White Castle sees players taking control of one of several clans each vying for the court’s attention.
To win the game, players will be employing their clan’s resources and people in order to gain victory points. Acquiring victory points requires players to perform tasks such as tending the Himeji castle’s gardens, defending its walls and charming its residents. By gaining influence, managing their resources and using their workers, players will be able to win over the approval of the Japanese court of Daimio Sakai Tadakiyo.
Within the centre of The White Castle’s board is a representation of Himeji Castle divided into various zones. Each zone provides players with a method of acquiring victory points. The inside of the castle enables players to ascend socially and gain the Daimio’s favour, whilst the pond and gardens need tending and the wall requires warriors to guard it. Players will have to balance their contributions to each of these zones in order to be successful. If you enjoy classic eurogames with a Japanese twist, The White Castle is definitely worth playing.
10. Isle of Trains: All Aboard
Deliver passengers to their chosen destinations on an entire island of train tracks
Isle of Trains: All Aboard might just be the ultimate dream for any train enthusiast. Set on a sadly fictional island on which everyone travels everywhere by train, this board game fulfills every train-lover's dream. As a conductor of one of these locomotives, the player will be tasked with delivering passengers to various locations across the island. Along the way, players will be able to construct additional trains and transport goods, as well as people.
This train board game features two kinds of engines: the ones found within the trains themselves and the engine-building gameplay mechanics. Engine-building board games involve players gradually constructing a process of actions and bonuses, until they eventually have a system that provides them with points in an efficient a manner as possible. Throughout Isle of Trains, players will use their cards as locomotives, freight cars, passenger cars and even buildings, all to ensure that their delivery system operates as smoothly as possible.
Passengers and cargo in Isle of Trains will have to visit different destinations across the island, with players needing to be prepared to deliver them wherever they need to go. Players can net bonus points by delivering people and cargo to other trains, but at the risk of helping their opponents out. Any fans of train games or engine-building board games are likely to have a good time playing Isle of Trains.