All games featured here are the reviewer's copy paid for with my own money, apart from Nucleum which was provided for free for purposes of review. See our review policy here
When visiting Essen, I always spend a significant amount of time researching which games I want to try out and buy before I go. There is so much to see and do, you need to prepare to max best use of your time. However, as is often the case in life, sometimes it's the things you know little to nothing about that can delight you the most. This was the case with the 2023 Essen fair, where I came back with many games I did not plan too, some of which have offered me a lot more joy than some of the games I was most excited for. As such, I thought it may be interesting and helpful to list my hidden gems of Essen 23. Games I bought, and loved, but prior to the fair knew very little about. So, without further ado, here are my 5 hidden gems I discovered during Essen 2023 Game Fair.
WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 3-8
You’ll like this if you like: Hanabi, Remembering stuff!
Published by: Ravensburger
Designed by: Kasper Lapp
I had not heard of this game prior to Essen. I was walking around the fair, late one afternoon and I came across a table of strangers being demoed the game. They were all laughing and seemingly having a great time. I stopped to watch and was instantly captivated. I joined in the next game and instantly went to go and buy it afterwards. It seemed to be such a simple game to learn, teach and play, I was certain I would it would be suitable for a lot of circumstances, and get a lot of plays.
Since I have owned this game I have played with with family and friends, and it has landed 99% of the time. The game is simple. look at a card, try to remember it. Flip it face down, Pass it around the group naming what you pass as you do. If ever you think someone is passing you something that they have named incorrectly, call them on it. If they are wrong they keep the card. If you are wrong, you keep the card. First to a set amount of cards loses.
It can be stress inducing. Trying to remember the cards can be a lot harder for some people. This can be frustrating and even embarrassing it seems for some people. But most seem to simply find it hilarious and enjoy the simple pleasure of watching other people forget the cards just as much as they are. Revelling equally in everyone's inability to retain basic information learned moments before.
WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2-5
Designed by: Kasper Lapp
Again, this was not a game that was on my radar. But as I walked by the stand some people that I was with seemed to get excited to see it. I went over to check it out myself, and there was a bit of a queue. So, I thought I would just take a punt and buy it as it was only 10 euro. I thought I could always gift it on if it wasn't for me. I played it a few weeks after getting back from Essen and instantly thought what a great little game it is.
It's very simple. Five cards from five different suits are dealt out each round and players in turn, decide how many of these five they want to build. You can only bid a higher number than previous bids. You only get one bid. And any bid of five instantly ends the bidding round. The player with the highest bid then has to take that many cards and build them. This is done by placing them face up in their coloured groups in front of them. The catch being that what you build must be always on top of the same colour, and be a lower card to the one placed before. You cannot put a higher card onto a lower one. Players will then score points at the end of the game based on the size of their towers. So, building an 11 card and then a two on top is a huge waste.
It's incredibly addictive, brilliant in all player counts (but probably best at 2 or 4) and is so easy to teach and play, you could make this work with almost any group. I am a big fan of games like this. A nice simple filler that feels it offers meaningful choices.
WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2-6 You’ll like this if you like: Poker, Battle Line
Published by: Loosey Goosey Games
Designed by: Ikhwan Kwon
I have already fully reviewed this game here. Head there if you want the full run down of how it plays and what it is like. But if you are here for the abridged version; here yo go. It's awesome.
Anyone wanting more, but has not clicked on the above link to the full review, I will say this. If you want a game o play with friends that will illicit screams of joy and horror, that plays fast, is easy to learn, you will not go far wrong with this game. It looks fun. It plays fun. It is fun. And I only bought it because it had a cool name, and something (it seemed) to do with dinosaurs. But come on. Would you really have passed this up yourself?
WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: Board&Dice
This game has also received the full WBG treatment here. But the short-and-sweet version is this. Do you like Brass? But wish you had a version that was slightly different, a lot more green, maybe not quite as good, but with a more nuclear theme? Well, great. That was a uge coincidence!
In all seriousness, you can't own all the euro's made. And if you want the best, consider Brass. It's phenomenal. More thoughts on Brass here. But if you want to buy and own more than one, and you already own and love Brass, this is worthy of your consideration.
It has been knocked by some due to comparisons with Brass, and it not being as good. But that perhaps is a little unfair. Considering Nucleum on its own, as a standalone game, I would rate it very similarly to Brass. Both are 9/10 games for me. Brass is better. Perhaps a 9.5 if I was pushed to separate them. But they are both great and they both offer fascinating choices throughout. (But I do prefer Brass).
Liars & Looters
WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 3-6
You’ll like this if you like: Bohnanza, shouting at your friends!
Published by: Floating Forge
Designed by: Julian Reinartz
Liars & Looters is the perfect example of a game I have never heard of, that caught my eye at Essen, I bought on impulse, and I now adore. I sat down and tried this, mainly in truth, as the table was free and I was tired. But oh my, do I appreciate my laziness now.
It is so simple. Players are given a task to collect a certain groups of cards. Each person will have one type of card they don't want as well as the ones they do. Players then take it in turns to draw a card and then trade one card with another player. Each round all players gain one more card, but can they through sheer luck, or clever trading, get the ones they need to collect their set. Now, here is the twist, when you trade, you do not, and really should not, tell the truth. Players will offer things to other players, knowing this is the thing they desire the most, but knowing themselves it is in fact the one thing they do not need at all.
As these trades take place, screams of joy, frustration, laughter and goodness knows what else will fill your ears. It's hilariously addictive. And seems to be like this immediately so each time I play this. There is no build up to this game. It starts with a bang and continues like that for the entirety of the game. Which would be a bit much if it was anything longer than 15 minutes. But it isn't. So I love it. I think you may do to.
So, there you go. Five games I did not have on my radar but now heartily recommend. Shows you how much we should all take from pre-convention hype lists, right? (Note to self!)