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.
Essen Spiel 2023 - Day 1 LIVE!
Our live coverage of this event has finished.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!