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Essen Spiel 2023 Day 1: News, reveals and previews live from the world's biggest board game convention

Join us on the show floor as we give our thoughts on this year's must-see releases.

Image credit: Friedhelm Merz Verlag

Essen Spiel 2023 is upon us! It's the first day of Germany's biggest board games convention, and we're scouring the show floor for the latest news, reveals and chances to play this year's hottest releases.

From new additions in beloved series to hidden gems tucked away in the corners of the Messe Essen, we'll be looking for every game you shouldn't miss - and sharing it with you live from the exhibition.

Expect discoveries, hands-on impressions and more, posted in tasty bitesize form directly to the live feed below. Basically, it's like a much better Twitter. And if you've got a question or comment, fire away - we'll tell you more when we can.

With so many games, we'll be splitting our Essen Spiel 2023 liveblogs into daily round-ups - find our feeds for Days 2 (Friday), 3 (Saturday) and 4 (Sunday) here.

Essen Spiel 2023 - Day 1 LIVE!

Our live coverage of this event has finished.

Hallo! Essen Spiel 2023 isn't quite underway yet, but watch this space...

Matt Jarvis

Essen has truly begin: I spotted my first Reiner Knizia game of the show! The fairly dry-looking roll-and-write At the Office; because what I want to do in my spare time is pretend I'm at work. It wasn't long before I saw at least three other Knizia creations too...

Matt Jarvis

One of the most intriguing games I saw during today's preview was Almost Innocent, a sort of mix of deduction game like Deception: Murder in Hong Kong and Battleship. Players ask each other questions to identify the squares on a central board that relate to the clues (who, what, how, where) they need. Looks great, too!

Matt Jarvis

The most charming game we saw might be Nekojima, a gorgeously simply dexterity game. Players must carefully place two wooden poles connected by a piece of string (they're power lines) in two districts on the board. That gets harder as more poles as placed, as the strings mustn't touch each other and the poles - which can be stacked into towers - must avoid falling over. It can be played competitively, in co-op or even alone. Fans of Junk Art, Beasts of Balance and other games about balancing wooden pieces should check it out!

Matt Jarvis

ICYMI: Essen Spiel owner Merz Verlag gave us a brief statement regarding the use of AI artwork in their marketing material. Essentially, they won't properly address criticism until after the show, and new mascot Meeps is not involved with this in any way. Read more here!

Chase Carter

There's a board game inspired by the Saw horror film franchise coming to Kickstarter! Saw: The Jigsaw Trials will be showcased at Essen Spiel, so look for Iconiq Studios on the Essen Spiel show floor to see the gory goodness - and let us know if Billy the Puppet is anywhere to be seen...

Chase Carter

Essen Spiel is properly underway! My highlight of the morning so far is a game coming out next year called Harmonize. Think the tile-drafting of Azul, but you're needing to create habitats for animals instead of tiling Portuguese palaces. Those animals demand specific arrangements of tokens on your personal board (which has a hex grid), and give you points for pleasing them. In a cool twist, tokens can also be stacked to create terrain - so you might make a tree from earth and grass to make it home for a monkey, etc. Expect a fuller write-up soon, but as a big Azul fan it left me very excited!

Matt Jarvis

I also checked out a neat little game called Divulium, which promises to offer a fast-playing 4X game in the vein of Civilization but in under an hour. To do that, it strips things down to the basics: you use your actions (selected by a fun spinning wheel) to move your ships between islands, placing settlers to earn resources which in turn can get you gold (which double as victory points). You can also explore, battle your opponents and gain technology in the form of ability cards. It seems very light, but might be of interest to those after a quick Civ fix.

Matt Jarvis

Reiner Knizia's classic Florentine auction board game Medici gets a visual upgrade in new edition, and it will be published by Steamforged Studios, of all companies.

While Steamforged is better known for video game-to-tabletop adaptations (Dark Souls: The Board Game, Resident Evil, the upcoming Elden Ring Board Game), the UK-based company has partnered with Knizia to put one of his three beloved auction titles back on hobby store shelves in January 2024.

Medici 2024 board game rerelease board spill header
Image credit: Reiner Knizia/Steamforged Games

Chase Carter

We now have more details about Saw: The Jigsaw Trials board game on the site, which hits Kickstarter on Halloween (Oct. 31st). Lead designer Luke Melia explained a bit about building traps from cards, competing with other players to survive Jigsaw's pain factory, and managing resources while attempting to stay alive.

Also, the character sheet is a literal jigsaw puzzle where pieces are swapped out as players lose limbs to gnarly traps and hazards. This affects their health, in-game actions and how many cards they can hold in-hand.

Saw: The Jigsaw Trials board game shots from Essen Spiel 2023
Image credit: Iconiq Studios/Lionsgate/Twisted Pictures

Chase Carter

Last night we checked out upcoming TCG Altered. Honestly, my mind was blown a bit. It's an interesting game in terms of gameplay - you are racing against your opponent to reunite your character and theit companion by winning control of different biomes along a central track. Played cards aren't discarded but go faceup into a 'reserve' where they can be played again - usually for a different cost, and sometimes with a new effect - before they're discarded for good.

Matt Jarvis

What was truly surprising about Altered is the fact it will allow players to register any cards they own on an app and print any owner cards on demand for an apparently small fee. You can print cards as many times as you like, so you only need to own one to have the max number in your deck. All those cards will be brand new and offered at a fixed printing price, so no need to go chasing more copies in boosters or paying ridiculous sums on eBay. Players can then trade and sell their digital rights to a card through the app, so you just buy access then print as many as you like. It's a wild, ambitious idea, but one that could genuinely shake up the secondary market for TCGs and the way that players approach card rarity.

Matt Jarvis

We stumbled upon a game we've been realy excited for which is Tiny Mini Golf. It's a roll and write where yoy build a mini golf course. The dice give you walls, sand and water to work with which each have different effects on golf balls. Once you've set up a map you then swap with another player, grab a new set of dice, and have to play through whatever they drew. It's a really fun system and ever after struggling through a map that Wheels designed I'm already excited to play it again. The Kickstarter should be fufilling in the next few months and there's even a print and play available now to have a go before the full release.

Maddie Cullen

Quite possibly the cutest game we've seen so far (though there are many challengers for that title), Robot Quest Arena from Wise Wizard Games looks to take the gameplay of deckbuilder Star Realms onto a tactical grid. With each player controlling some genuinely lovely miniature sculpts of cute, fighting robots you'll be trading in 'energy' from your basic starter deck to fill it with lovely upgrades like laser weapons and buzzing batteries.

Instead of dealing arbitrary damage to abstracted health pools though, you'll be chasing down other players' robots on a grid board to whack them with your weapons and push them into traps. One of my favourite little innovations that sets it apart from its sci-fi older brother is the different ways in which you can spend your currency! If you're not keen on anything in the shop or it's all out of your price range, you can instead spend it to move your robot around and push enemy bots. That means you'll never have the classic problem of a hand full of cash when you desperately need anything else in the late game, that leads to you buying stuff you don't want and passing back to your opponent.

Also, did I mention it's absolutely adorable? You'll be able to grab blister packs with brand new robots, each with their own custom abilities and a fresh set of cards and terrain tiles to introduce new mechanics into the game. Each new bot comes with another spawn tile to boot, allowing you to scale your games up to a whopping eight players or more. We're very intrigued.

Robot Quest Arena's box cover and four base robot mini figures
Image credit: Wise Wizard Games

Michael Whelan

Something we haven't played yet but looks really cool is the Household RPG. We chatted with the designer, and I'm very excited to grab a book in the next few days and start. It's a Borrowers stlye world where everyone is tiny and have crafted factions throughout an old abandoned house. It leans into social and narrative play which I love, as we'll be fighting between factions Game of Thrones style, charting the history over of our characters, their relationships, and how the very house we live in is affected by what we do. The art style is lovely too, a mix of Napoleonic stlyings of dress and technology with fairytale whimsy and the use of household items like using old keys to craft huge swords. I'm really excited to read more about it and play a game!
Household rpg, giant spider chasing regency dressed people
Image credit: Household by Two Little Mice

Maddie Cullen

MrTheHan says: I saw a Reddit post a few months ago by the designer of Tiny Mini Golf asking if they should retheme the game to sci-fi or fantasy because some so-called "industry expert" said that a game about minigolf would never sell, but those other two themes would. The absolute nerve -- luckily everyone who commented on that post was incredibly in favor of the minigolf theming.

This is wild to me! I'm not a golf fan by any mark, but I am far, far more excited and interesting in a game about golf than yet another bland sci-fi or fantasy setting.

Matt Jarvis

It's going to take some competition to beat my immediate standout of Essen so far. Kiri-ai: The Duel is a tiny card game that only uses 16 cards. What it makes with those cards is absolutely magic, though. It's a two-player game about duelling samurai in Edo-era Japan. Each player plays two cards each turn, allowing them to move back and forth along a central track, change stance between Heaven and Earth, and strike with attacks that hit based on their opponent's distance (some hit on the same space, others 2-3, etc.) and stance.

That results in an unbelievably tense standoff as the players jab back and forth, clash swords (when you both hit with the same attack), and try to land two blows for the win. A random special attack dealt to each player - which is discarded on use, unlike the normal attacks that can return to your hand - adds a light element of asymmetry and extra tension as you try to predict your opponent's next move.

GOD, it's good. Wheels and I played something like two dozen rounds in a row last night (some lasting literally a minute or two, others going into longer rallies as we parried and dodged). As someone infactuated with tight fighting games like Nidhogg and Bushido Blade, this really gave me that feel in a card game. Plus, the cards have a gorgeous abstracted design and come wrapped in a beautiful fabric wallet inspired by Edo-period coin pouches.

Honestly, it's not just my favourite game of Essen so far - I think I've found a new all-timer to sit alongside the likes of Love Letter and Hive as a game I will take with me everywhere and want to play with everyone I meet.

Matt Jarvis

And with that, Day 1 of Essen Spiel comes to a close! We'll be back tomorrow with even more games from the show floor. Head on over to our Day 2 liveblog to see what we find on Friday!

Matt Jarvis

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