Essen Spiel 2017 is upon us! Actually the fair starts today.  Internationale Spieltage  SPIEL is the largest board game fair in the world.  Every year, enthusiasts worldwide travel to Essen, Germany for four days hunting down the best new board game releases! While Geek Unleashed isn’t attending Spiel this year, we are channeling our cardboard spirits to bring you our collective top ten games we are most looking forward to from this year’s SPIEL!


2-4 Players   ♦   75 Minutes   ♦   Age 13+   ♦   Bezier Games

     I went mad for Ludwig’s castles, and now it is time to see if Mad King’s Palace makes me go just as crazy. The Palace of Mad King Ludwig is standalone follow up to the Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Unlike its predecessor all the players work together to build one huge palace. By huge, I mean gigantic. Usually I am not a fan of games that take up a bunch of room, but this one looks more than worth it. The Palace of Mad King Ludwig has the flair of Castles, but adds its own bit of style. Even though all the players are joint architects on building of the palace, they are still competing to see who can construct the rooms that King Ludwig has asked for with the most elegance and verve.  The Palace of Mad King Ludwick is designed by Ted Alspech and published by Bézier Games, Inc.


2-4 Players   ♦   40-110  ♦   Age 14+   ♦   La Boite de Jeu

     It finally happened. The End was near, but now it is here. Outlive is a game of survival in a post- apocalyptic world.  As a leader of a group of survivors you add new survivors to your group, gather provisions, and try to keep everyone at your base alive and radiation free. Times are tough and supplies are scarce; there are other camps of survivors that you are vying with for the same rare and valuable materials. There will be times when someone bigger and badder than you will come to chase you off. Will you be able to Outlive your opponents? Outlive is designed by Grégory Oliver and published by La Boite de Jeu.


2-4 Players   ♦   20 Minutes   ♦   Age 8+   ♦   White Goblin Games

     Ali Baba hid from the thieves and heard them say the magic word to open their treasure filled cave. He waited patiently for the thieves to leave before he approached the entrance to the cave. “Open Sesame!”  The entrance to the secret hideout has been opened and the players are trying to gather as many treasures as they can. The setup of this game is something that I have never seen before. The uniqueness of treasures tiles are stacked up in a pyramid shape is intriguing to me. The game starts with the top four treasure tiles showing, but all the others face down. You reveal new treasures as the game continues and the tile pyramid is slowly whittled down.  The color background of each tile gives you a special power when you pick it up and set collection will give you points at the end of the game.  Ali Baba is designed by Martino Chiacchiera and Remo Conzadori, and published by White Goblin Games.


2-4 Players   ♦   20 Minutes   ♦   Age 8+   ♦   White Goblin Games

     You run a college training mages, rogues, and warriors. Over the course of the game you can send your apprentices out on adventures, hire better professors, and build useful buildings. Dragonsgate College is another game with a large board, but it because there are so many courses of action you can take. The options are dice selection based, but there are still multiple actions available no matter how many pips are on the dice you select. To some the variety of actions may seem daunting, but to me it only adds to the replay value. Dragonsgate College is designed by Thomas Vande Corbella and Odysseas Stamoglou, and published by NSKN Games.


1-4 Players   ♦   60-150 Minutes   ♦   Age 12+   ♦   Pandasaurus Games

     It is time to open your own dinosaur park and you can assure your guests that you spared no expense. With Dinosaur Island you will bred, feed, and build better paddocks for your dinosaurs. But, hold onto your butts, you will start to lose points if your dinosaurs escape and start to eat your guests. Park visitors typically don’t like being turned into dino droppings. So break out your Dino DNA and invite others to visit, but be mindful to make your park as safe as possible. The only aspect of this game that I do not find appealing is the color selection in the design. It is a small thing, but it was enough to bump it to the bottom of my top 5 list. Nonetheless, Dinosaur Island will end up on my game shelves and the Jurassic Park quotes will fly like a wild pterodactyl.  Dinosaur Island is designed by Johnathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis, and published by Pandasaurus Games.


2-4 Players   ♦   45-60 Minutes   ♦   Age 14+   ♦   Tasty Minstrel Games

     When Tasty Minstrel Games announced a board game reminiscent of the Oregon Trail with dice-drafting, I was already shouting for them to take my money. Pioneer Days by designers Matthew Dunstan (Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time) and Chris Marling, encapsulates the pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. Each players takes on the role of a specific character all with unique abilities. Over the course of five days, players will lead their wagons along the trail ending their weeks in a new town. Each day players will draw modified six-sided dice and roll them, placing each die on their matching space on the board. Taking a die will trigger certain actions and players can then choose to take the corresponding money, villager card, or the icon on the die face. Whichever die remains moves the players closer to impending trouble such as a storm, raid, famine, and disease which will take its toll on the players. When the players arrive at the town at the end of the week, the players will score points based on the town’s needs. This continues for a total of four weeks before the game ends and the victor with the highest score wins. Pioneer Days is our most anticipated game here at Geek Unleashed!


2-4 Players   ♦   75 Minutes   ♦   Age 14+   ♦   Queen Games

     If you would ask any one of us here at Geek Unleashed who our favorite designers are, Stefan Feld would be at the top of our lists. He won us over with Castles of Burgundy, captivated us with Bruges, and now partnering with designer Michael Rieneck (Pillars of the Earth), Feld brings us his newest from Queen Games: Merlin. King Arthur is searching for an heir among the Knights of the Round Table to carry his legacy with the help of Merlin. In typical Stefan Feld fashion, Merlin is a very point-salad game, meaning you can score points with just about any strategy you take in this game. You get a point, and you get a point. Everyone gets points! Players can focus on defeating barbarians, building manors, and increasing their influence in six different countries, and let’s not forget task cards. By fulfilling these cards during their turn, players are awarded even more victory points. The player who most efficiently plans his actions will have the most points at the end of the game, and will become King Arthur’s successor. Merlin may seem overwhelming at first glance, but as any Feld fan knows, the many avenues a player can take to earn points offer flexibility against your opponents and adds replay value to what looks to be another Feld classic!


1-4 Players   ♦   45-90 Minutes   ♦   Age 12+   ♦   Aporta Games

     Did I mention that I love dice drafting? It’s right up there with my other favorite game mechanic: engine building. So, having Aporta Game’s Santa Maria on my list should come to no surprise. Designers Eilif Svensson (Capital Lux, Mangrovia) and Kristian Amundsen Østby (Escape: the Curse of the Temple, Escape: Zombie City) bring us to the New World where players establish and develop their own colonies. Over the course of the game, you will expand your colony by placing Tetris-like pieces with buildings onto your colony board. The dice represents workers which are used to activate these buildings, either in rows (left to right) or columns (top to bottom). The die will stop on the last building that was activated and block its space. Throughout the game, players will produce and ship goods, disperse conquistadors, and improve religion and recruit monks. The player with the most happiness after three rounds wins. Santa Maria is one medium Euro I cannot wait to add to my game collection!  


2-5 Players   ♦   60-120 Minutes   ♦   Age 12+   ♦   dlp games

     One word: alpacas! Seriously though: alpacas!

     When I first played Orléans, I was blown away by everything the game had to offer, especially the bag building mechanic. When I heard that designer Reiner Stockhausen was bringing a new bag-building game to Essen Spiel this year, I was immediately sold! Altiplano is said to be along the same lines of Orléans, but this time, the game whisks you away to the South American highlands of the Andes where players can reach their goals through various means. Players will be pulling resources from their bags to take actions to create better resources and essentially a better way of life. Resources are limited, and when they run out, they are gone. The game plays in three phases: drawing, planning, and action. In the drawing phase, you pull out up to four resources from your bag until more slots are later unlocked. In the planning phase, players simultaneously place these resource tokens on various spots which will later activate in the action phase. In this last phase, you will produce better goods, build boats, houses, store goods, and keep the roads in top condition. Various goods, houses, boats and hidden objectives will score in the end. This game is right up my alley, and I can’t wait to get this game to the table. Besides, what other games give you alpacas as a resource!


2-4 Players   ♦   30-40 Minutes   ♦   Age 8+   ♦   Plan B Games

    When composing my list of top five Essen releases, many games were shuffled around for various reasons, but one game stuck with me the entire process: Azul by Plan B Games. Now you may say, “Michael Kiesling is bringing us several new releases this year. What makes Azul stand out?” One word: elegance. Azul is an abstract strategy game which features set collection, pattern building, and tile placement. Players take on the roles of tile-laying artists, challenged to decorate the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora. On your turn, you draft colored tiles from suppliers to your player board. In the same round, players score points based on tile placement while specific patterns and set collections earn you extra points. Players must be careful on not wasting tiles as any unused supplies will cost you points. Azul does an amazing job simulating tile decoration while keeping strategy first and foremost. The tiles are gorgeous, and the game is visually stunning. I keep counting the days until this game becomes available to buy!

What board game releases are you most looking forward to this year? Comment below and let us know!

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