I played 3 of Essen's hottest board games: Here's what I think of Sanctum, On The Underground, and Megacity Oceania
by Calvin Wong
There are a lot of board games at Spiel.
And it feels like all ten thousand of them are 'The Hotness'. It becomes really hard to keep up, not only during the convention, but the months of post-con coverage where people release reviews, talk about their games.
My approach is to focus on games that I'm interested in - visually gorgeous, highly thematic games that give a cool narrative no matter their genre. Here's 3 of them that I played.
On The Underground
Reprinted after 10 years, On The Underground is Ticket To Ride+ - and rather than routes you're building networks. Let me explain.
In On The Underground you have 1 very lazy passenger (let's call him Balvin) who wants to travel to two different stations. He would rather take a train 10 stops than walk 2 stops, and wants to change trains as little as possible.
You and the other players then take turns to lay out track, up to 4 sections per turn, in order to entice the passenger to ride our lines. You're given multiple line colors and can build from anywhere, and the stations he wants to travel to change every round.
This ends up with everyone creating networks, trying to get in each other's way, planning ahead to make sure you don't block yourself off later - and all in an incredible watercolor rendition of two of the world's great train networks. Really cool game for those who enjoy route-building as a genre.
It's a real challenge not to type SANCTUM in all caps because this game is metal as hell.
Designed by Filip Neduk, Sanctum does for the hack-and-slash video game what his neon-soaked Adrenaline did for the arena shooter. 'Diablo-in-a-box' is a fair comparison, with its four character classes and their unique skills and upgrades, making enemies explode into showers of loot, and the giant demon lord at the end.
Fighting monsters and leveling up is really fun thanks to the game's incredibly smooth user interface. Selecting which monsters to fight, gear to equip, and skills to learn could have been a bookkeeping-laden chore, but Sanctum makes it a joy. Downtime is nearly zero thanks to nearly simultaneous turns as you gear up - and gear up you must, because the boss is real hard
If you want to be real reductive about it, you can accuse Sanctum of being a tableau builder with dice manipulation elements - but it's a) a dang good one b) METAL. AS. HECK. Filip Neduk's ability to adapt video game genres into easily-digestible yet non-luck-based thematic tabletop with such élan is admirable and I for one will be buying everything he makes from now until pretty much forever.
In theory I like a lot of dexterity/building games, but the problem is once you've played one, you've kind of played them all.
Megacity introduces a light euro element to its block stacking, requiring you to build buildings from a single resource type in order to score bonus points - or requiring an elevated archway, or a minimum height, or maximizing adjacency bonuses.
My absolute favorite idea though? Having to deliver the building to the center of the table without it falling down.
Sure you've built a 130 storey monstrosity - but can you actually slide it into position without it collapsing?
Megacity: Oceania is a great idea that's loads of fun and has an absolutely gorgeous aesthetic. Play this in any public space and I guarantee there will be loads of people trying to get a peek at your megalopolis - tho watch out for if they bump the table.