Three more amazing under-the-radar Essen games (and why I love them)

by Calvin Wong

The Crew: The Quest For Planet Nine

Trick taking games have never really hit it off with me but here comes The Crew, a co-operative trick taker set in space with a cool sense of humor and great art.

You are astronauts-in-training, working together to complete 50 missions in order to prepare you for your journey to the newly discovered Planet 9. (The rulebook mentions the catastrophe of 2006, the year Pluto was reclassified)

To complete a mission, certain cards will be qualified as objectives for each player, i.e. in this photo, the blue six in the lower left.

It is now the job of everyone at the table to to make sure that the blue six ends up with the person it's supposed to be - standard trick-taking rules apply. If I play a blue card, all other players must now play a higher blue if they have it, or a wild, or - you get the idea. Did I mention you can't talk? Players must communicate mainly through their plays (a la bridge) or risk failing the mission.

The Crew is an amazing trick taking card game - for fans of the genre, you should 100% look into this - as a newbie to trick takers, I found myself perplexed for the first few rounds but quickly saw there was a depth of strategy and possibility in a few simple cards. Highly recommended.


A space-themed 4x game with tall sail ships - that plays in 30-40 minutes.

I've either completely caught your attention with Efemeris or I'm not going to be able to. Explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate your rival nations as either the Spanish, French, or British space fleets in Efemeris, a game that transcends its rules-light low-playtime existence into something really special.

Careful placement and rotation of your explored tiles and careful use of your limited income are key in Efemeris, as you never quite have enough money, movement, crew, or power ups to do everything you like. Experienced gamers can jump right into the Advanced mode which adds additional celestial obstacles (e.g. black holes) and the game plays 1v1, 2v2, or three player free-for-all although I can't see why 2v2v2 wouldn't work either.

Some players might balk at the simplified rules and 'I play a card you die' combat, but for a game this gorgeous and short, I'll happily take it. Efemeris is gorgeous, just-thinky-enough, and a load of fun.

Kung Fu

Easily my favorite game of this list, Kung Fu is a card drafting and dice game about martial arts masters pitting their styles against each other in hand to hand combat.

In the first phase of Kung Fu, players draft a set of 10 moves, each with their own bonuses, strengths, and weaknesses - this allows you to 'customize' your fighter, increasing their health, offensive or defensive power, and ability to reroll dice.

(for a lighter game, you could also just deal 10 cards to each player, thus losing the customization aspect but significantly reducing play time - plus you get to jump straight to the kung fu fighting.)

Once players have their fighters, they must select 3 of their 10 moves to play in each round of combat. They will then roll dice in order to create combos - the move in the upper left requires 3 dice of a kind, while the one of the right requires a single 5. Selecting which moves to play each round requires careful consideration so you don't get locked out by bad rolls.

Each player then has a turn to attack while the others defend, and 3 rounds later the last kung fu master standing wins.

Kung Fu really captures the feeling of martial arts battling, a genre many games have aimed for but few succeeded. Its minimalist yet authentic art style and sleek, elegant design is a real winner, and I hope this game succeeds beyond its designer's wildest dreams.

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Supporter18 months ago

Good catches! All 3 of these look like great games! If I had to pick one Efemeris looks the lost interesting. 

Supporter18 months ago

Definitely piqued my interest with Efemeris. A fast-playing 4x that is still deep is a grail for designers/publishers. I’m gonna have to keep my eye on this one.

18 months ago

I'm curious about the Kosmos game.  I enjoy their 2P game series.

18 months ago

If you like trick-takers it is very very good. 

19 months ago

Kung Fu looks fantastic and Calvin has an impeccable eye for good games. I guarantee this will be on my shelf at the earliest opportunity. Does anyone know when it'll be available?

Owner18 months ago

I agree, I've been enjoying seeing Calvin's selections every time. I tried looking up how to get my hands on Geometric Art after Calvin shared about it a few articles ago, but had no luck there either

18 months ago

It is possible that Emperor S4 did a rush printing for Essen; checking their webstore did not show the game available there. It might have a more general release soon - I'll ask them.

18 months ago

You can buy it directly from the publisher

18 months ago

Thanks for the tip! Keep up the awesome!

Supporter19 months ago

You did indeed catch my attention with efemeris. 

How do feel the symbology is? Is it clear? Confusing? 

19 months ago

It's pretty clear. There's not many of them and you get a 2 sided player aid.

Supporter19 months ago

I think it looks striking. I will need to research more about it. I had never heard about it before you wrote about it here.

19 months ago

Thanks for reading, and I swear I'm going to do more than just under-the-radar pieces - I just love writing about stuff no one else is talking about. Discovering hidden gems is one of the great joys of my job.

Supporter19 months ago

So, what is your job that you get to discover hidden gems? 

19 months ago

I write about board games!

Supporter19 months ago

That sounds fun. 

Linked Games
Efemeris: Solstice
Kung fu