Dragonriders: Dragonriders is a unique race game from Amigo/Rio Grande and Jean du Poel (Carabande/PitchCar) and Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (Carcassonne). It’s a miniatures game masquerading as a board game.
The idea is that you have a dragon you are racing around a track. The dragon has a hexagonal base. Each turn, you dial a speed from 1-8. When it’s your turn to move, you reveal your speed and grab a movement measuring stick that matches the distance you’ve dialed and – and this is the clever bit – has notches cut in the ends that allow you to rotate your dragon both before and after your move. So the 1-length stick allows you to turn a great deal, and the 8-length stick not so much. This is fairly nifty, and makes for an interesting but extremely clean-playing race game.
The other thing I liked is that the courses seem very interesting – a nice combination of snakey bits requiring precise maneuvers with some open areas. There is a good sense of risk – how fast are you willing to try to go in taking that corner? In a game like Formula De, you can see pretty clearly what the odds are of taking the turn vs. hitting the wall at various speeds, while here you really have to eyeball it and guess, which I find a more entertaining game.
There are also some take-that cards (magic fireballs, magic lassoes, and magic tire spikes) which add a bit of chaos; nobody is going to mistake Dragonriders for Puerto Rico. In my game some of the players got a little excitable about making sure nobody nudged the other Dragons while moving your own (things can get a little tight), but this just isn’t that sort of game; if you knock things around a bit, who cares? Does everyone get all the cars back in exactly the position from which they started after a wipeout in Carabande?
I must say, I enjoyed Dragonriders, even though it wasn’t even on my radar screen as something I might be interested in prior to Essen (I’m not a big race game fan in general). It reminded me of Wings of War, another miniatures to boardgame port I liked. It’s light, but I found it short and fun. It’s not a serious game, but it captures the theme well and feels like a racing game (something that most racing games surprisingly fail to accomplish for me). What remains to be determined is if it can be had for a reasonable price, given its comparative lightness.
SuDoku: The Boardgame: For the 3 people in Europe and Japan who haven’t heard of Sudoku, and the maybe 250 million such people in the US, Sudoku is the latest craze in newspaper puzzles. You’re given a 9x9 grid divided into 9 3x3 sectors. Some of the cells in the grid have a number (1-9) in them. The idea is to fill in all the cells in the grid with a number such that no row, column, or sector has a duplicate number. Sound like fun?
Being an American, I am not a Sudoku player. However, I am a fan of Reiner Knizia, and with visions in my head of what Scrabble did with crosswords, I was interested in seeing what he (and Kosmos) could do with Sudoku.
The answer is: not so much. You’re given a Sudoku grid. You have to play number tiles following the roles of Sudoku (no duplicates in a row, column, or sector). You get one point for each other, pre-existing tile in the row, column, and sector for which you play. You only have one tile in your hand at a time. That’s it.
As a game, Knizia mailed this one in. There is little, if anything, there. I still found it modestly entertaining for one play; learning to see the Sudoku patterns was kind of neat and I now do have some interest in trying out the puzzles sometime soon. I can’t say as much for the game, however.
Fettnapf: I heard this game referred to as "this year's Geschenkt". Maybe. It's mainly a memory game, with a bit of bluffing. Each player has a few "landmine" cards numbered 10-30. The game is then played with a separate deck of cards numbered 0-9; each turn, play one card from your hand onto the pile, and announce the running total. Once the pile exceeds 30, it starts counting back down, and then back up again once it gets below 10. If your play causes the running total to hit another player's number exactly, you get a point. This is bad. When one player gets four points, the game is over, fewest points wins. Whenever the direction of the count flips, another "landmine" card is revealed and handed out, so things get tougher as the game goes on.
I liked this, enough to go back and pick up a copy after I had played. Like Geschenkt, it's simple, quick, tense, and reasonably skillful. It's not a deep game, but fun for filler or an opener, and good for younger players or mixed groups. Because it's basically a memory game, it's not going to appeal to everyone, but really good small-box stuff like this is rare and this might be one.