The 9 Most Intriguing Games Debuting at Essen Spiel 2016

Essen is one of the two largest conventions in the world for games and toys, and it takes place in Essen, Germany over four days. It’s also where hundreds of board games make their debut. The list of all of the games coming out at Essen is frankly staggering. Here are the nine games I find the most intriguing of the bunch.

Of Dreams & Shadows

What interests me the most about Of Dreams & Shadows is that it is a cooperative board game with a heavy storytelling aspect. Each player is in control of a Champion, and they are all working together to fight against Villains and their servants. As you play through the collaborative story, scenarios will introduce encounters and conflict.

Those conflicts will be resolved through passing a test or making a choice. Each choice or test you pass affects the story line and can change the outcome. Failing a test could have horrible results. For instance, a Champion could be struck with a debilitating affliction.

There are three Villains to choose from, each of which have their own powers and their own flunkies. The game promises over 30 different enemies, each with their own abilities. So you and your friends will have to be creative with your strategy if you hope to prevail.

I’m most excited about the fact that each test and each choice you make shapes the story. I’m hoping that it actually delivers on that promise. The multitude of enemy characters is something I also look forward to, especially because that should mean that the game will have good replay value.

Of Dreams & Shadows is for 2-6 players, takes about 2-3 hours to play, and costs around $50.

Cottage Garden

As you could probably tell by the title, Cottage Garden is a gardening-themed board game. Players will compete against each other to try to have the most organized garden. Each person is working their own two garden boards. Each board has several garden elements that will score them points if the player does not plant over them.

Each turn, players will select different flower tiles, each of which will be different geometric figures. They will then have to place those tiles on their garden boards in the most advantageous configuration. When no unplanted box is visible on a bed, the bed is completed and scored. Then you get a replacement fresh bed.

The elements that score a player points if they are not planted over are scored on two different tracks. Each track awards bonus tokens that you can use to fill in empty spaces on your board or let you get a better choice of garden tiles.

I love the theme, and the game mechanics themselves sound pretty solid and well-designed. I’m definitely excited to try this game out. Cottage Garden plays in 45-60 minutes, is for 1-4 players, and costs $49.99.

Bios: Genesis

Bios: Genesis has one of the most intriguing subtitles I’ve ever come across: “The Molecular Arms Race Game.” You had me at Molecular Arms Race! Players start out as ingredients in the primordial soup that came into being shortly after the creation of the Earth. The goal of the game is to create the double origin of life: first as an Autocatalytic Life (a metabolic cycle that reproduces but doesn’t replicate) and Darwinian Life (an Organism that uses a template to replicate in an RNA world).

Players will have to choose if they want to play cooperatively or competitively, and the game can be played solo as well. Each player starts as one of four organic compounds, Amino Acids which command metabolism, Lipids which create cells, Pigments which control energy absorption and storage, and Nucleic Acids which control templated replication.

Each turn starts with an Event Phase, which covers 200 million years. The game can last as long as 21 events, which will cover the first 4 billion years of the Earth’s 4.6 billion year history. From here the rules get more complicated. Suffice to say, this game looks like it’s completely grounded in science. I’m definitely looking forward to trying to create life.

Bios: Genesis is for 1-4 players, takes about 1-2 hours, and costs $36.99.


Outlive is a post-apocalyptic game set in 2079 where the human population numbers only 30,000. There are only four remaining tribes of humans, all of whom have taken shelter underground after a nuclear war devastated the Earth. The only hope these tribes have is the “Convoy,” which is a travelling organization looking for groups worthy enough to join their secret submarine cities, which are the human race’s best chance for survival.

Each player controls one of the four tribes. They have only 6 days (6 turns) to try to develop their tribe so that they are seen as the most worthy to join the convoy. Players will be gathering resources, reinforcing their shelter, feeding survivors, attracting new survivors to join their colony, and dealing with detrimental events. You’ll also have to fend off threats from other players.

Each turn will be divided into a day phase and a night phase. During the day you’ll be collecting resources, and during the night you’ll manage your shelter, feed survivors, recruit survivors and improve your rooms and gear.

Outlive looks like a solid resource management/survival game, and I’m definitely interested to see how it plays. It is for 1-4 players, takes about 40-110 minutes, and it will cost about $60.


In Overseers, each player takes on the role of an Overseer, which are a group sent by the Goddess to protect the world. Each person must attempt to create the most dominant combination of virtues and vices. The game takes place over three main phases: drafting, judgement and scoring.

Players will first draft cards. Each player will draw six cards, choose one, then pass the remaining five cards to the person on their left. They are all attempting to try to build up their hand so that the cards will give them the most victory points. Some cards give the player points on their own, but others will require a combination of cards to score points.

Then we enter the judgement phase. Players will place their five trait cards in front of them in two rows with three face up and two face down. Players then discuss and vote on which player has the strongest combination of cards. The player who is voted the most powerful then has a choice of accepting the judgement or denying it.

If they accept the judgement, they then discard two cards from their combo. If they deny it, a showdown phase happens. All players must reveal their face down cards. If the voted player does actually have the strongest combo, they lose the two cards that score the highest. But if they do not have the strongest combo, they get to take a card from the discard pile. Then everyone tallies their scores and gains those victory points.

There might be more phases to the game depending on the special abilities of the Overseers being played. The game ends after three rounds and the player with the most victory points wins.

I love the combination of bluffing, drafting and strategy behind what cards you leave face up and what cards you leave face down. There are probably a ton of different ways to play this game, and who you play Overseers with could drastically change what strategies you use, and that makes it pretty exciting to me.

Overseers is for 3-6 players, takes about 30-45 minutes, and costs about $38.


Kanagawa is the great bay of Tokyo, where Master Painter Hokusai has opened a painting school to teach his disciples. Players take on the role of Master Hokusai’s disciples and learn the art of painting, while simultaneously attempting to prove themselves worthy of the artist.

Players will be collecting lesson cards which have two parts, a studio side and a print side. You will have to choose which side you are going to use, and you can only ever use one side of the card. The studio side will upgrade your studio and allow you to paint different kinds of landscapes, add supplies like brush and assistant pawns, or give you new abilities.

The artwork side of a lesson card will expand your Print. It has a lot of different elements, an end of game bonus, a season, the background, the main subject, and the kind of landscape it is.

There is a lot more intricacy to the game, such as some lesson cards are displayed face up and some are displayed face down. You’ll also want to earn diplomas by painting certain main subjects. The final goal of the game is to be the student with the most harmony points, which proves you are worthy of the Grand Master Hokusai.

The art is simply beautiful in this game. I love that you have to chose to use your lesson cards as either a studio upgrade or as part of your print. I’m super interested to see how the game plays out.

Kanagawa is for 2-4 players, lasts about 45 minutes, and costs $29.99.

The Arrival

The Arrival is a competitive game set on the mythical island of Érin. Each player is a tribe leader who is trying to take over the island. But there is an evil force called the Fomori who oppose all of the players.

As players fight to expand on the island, they can become corrupted. Players draw four cards during the first phase of the rounds. These cards have three different sections of resources, two of which get blocked out by the player, leaving only one section. The unblocked section of the card determines what resources the player gets, but it could also result in the player gaining corruption points.

The way to win is complicated, and depends on how much territory the players control versus how much the Fomori control. The game ends after either the designated number of rounds have been played or a player reaches the corruption limit. Depending on which side rules the most land, a player either wins with the highest amount of Fame Points or with the lowest number of Corruption Points.

I’m really interested in this game because of the different potential strategies the mechanics of this game presents. You could choose to let the Formori take over lots of land, or you might want to help fight them off, depending on what way to win you’re trying to focus on. Or you could potentially switch strategies mid-game and completely throw off the other players.

The Arrival is for 2-4 players, takes about an hour and a half to play, and costs $87.99.


This asymetrical card game is set on a mysterious planet named Artemia. Your intergalactic expedition is shipwrecked there, and as you explore while waiting for a rescue ship, you realize that you and your party are Not Alone on the planet.

One player takes on the role of the Creature, while the rest play as the shipwrecked crew. The crew plays Place and Survival cards to try to avoid, confuse or distract the creature until your rescue ship arrives.

As the creature, you’ll be stalking the crew. You’ll get to use the powers of the planet to try to assimilate your prey into the planet forever.

Not Alone seems like a quick, fun card game that could be great to play while you’re at the airport or waiting for your food at a restaurant. I love the theme and the art, and I’m interested to see how well this game plays in a large group.

Not Alone is for 2-7 players, takes about 30 minutes to play, and costs $29.99.

When I Dream

When I Dream is a really interesting game with some pretty unique mechanics. One player takes on the role of the Dreamer. That player must “go to sleep,” meaning they put on a cloth mask.

All of the other players are then dealt cards which tell them if they are good dream spirits, bad dream spirits, or trickster spirits. The dream spirits will then draw dream cards, and describe them using one word. The dreamer then has to try to guess what the element of the Dream is, and if they are correct, they put the card in the good spirits side. If they are wrong, they put the card in the bad spirits pile.

If a player is a trickster spirit, they are trying to evenly balance the good and bad spirits pile. So they might give a good clue one moment and a bad one the next. At the end of the two minute round, the dreamer and the good spirits get a point for every card in the good spirits pile, the naughty spirits get a point for every card in their pile, and the tricksters get points depending on how well balanced the piles were, and they get extra points if the piles are equal.

For extra points, before the dreamer opens their eyes, they have to use the words they guessed to tell the story of their dream. This game sounds super unique and like a bucket of quick fun. I love this take on a party game.

When I Dream is for 4-10 players, takes about 20-40 minutes to play, and costs about $22.

Caylie Sadin
Caylie is a writer and all around nerd. She started reading fantasy novels when she was 8, which naturally led her into playing DnD. Her favorite video game series is Dragon Age and her favorite book is “The Name of the Wind.”

Caylie Sadin
Caylie is a writer and all around nerd. She started reading fantasy novels when she was 8, which naturally led her into playing DnD. Her favorite video game series is Dragon Age and her favorite book is "The Name of the Wind."

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