Spiel, or as it’s often more commonly known in North America, Essen, after the German town it takes place in, is really huge. Around 180,000 people attend the fair over 4 days and over 900 games are released. It’s often a bucket list dream for the hard core gamers of the world to make the pilgrimage to Essen at least once.
When I mentioned I was going to Essen to some German people, there response was, ‘Why would you go there? That place is a hole.’ It is indeed a little rough around the edges, set deep in the industrial heartland of Germany, but like most towns it has it’s funky areas, more importantly though it has the largest convention center in Germany. 65,000+ square meters of gaming goodness. That’s about 13 football fields for those who measure things in football fields.
When you arrive on the Thursday morning you have two choices 1) run to a table to try a game before they all fill up or 2) run to buy the hot new games before they sell out. 2) has become less of an issue in recent years as game companies are now turning up with much larger quantities, but games do still sell out. This year the first to go was Altiplano, sold out in 3 hours. 1) is still a problem though. Trying to find a table to play the hot new games is very, very difficult. The only realistic way to get a table is to hang around a game like a bad stink until they finish (up to 20-30 mins) and dive in the moment the final score is tallied. If your happy to play anything though, finding a game to play isn’t too hard, you just wander around until you see a table and sit down. There are always loads of people at each companies booth happy to teach the rules, we were even taught by the designers themselves three times! Indeed you’ll find a lot of gems hidden in the quieter (read really busy, just not crushworthy) areas from the smaller companies.
A couple of highlights from smaller companies were Tao Long a 2-player Dragon battling game that is like a cross between Mancala and Snake the video game. It’s being released in January and we’ll be all over it here at the cafe. New York 1920 is a little stock market game from a small Spanish company that uses a lot of very clever mechanics in a tiny little box.
We tried Majesty for the Realm, the new game by Marc Andre, the designer of Splendor. Don’t worry it has those poker chips, but uses a drafting mechanic and card interplay in another 30 minute gem. We really liked it, hopefully it’ll be out in December.
The biggest vendor there was Asmodee, which took up half a hall all to itself (Halls are humongous) and had some spectacular booths and displays. To compare that to some of the tiny companies that had the hot games was pretty hilarious. One tiny stall had both Charterstone (the next game from the Scythe designer) and Gaia Project (the follow up to Terra Mystica) and the line-up to buy copies went literally further than the eye could see.
After each day finishes, most people head back to their hotels which usually open up their dining rooms or bars so that people can play their new goodies.
In the end we were there 2 days, which was probably enough. Walking around fighting the crowds is pretty exhausting and unless you get there a few days in advance jet lag will play a part in your energy levels. Was it worth it, absolutely! It’s like the Grand Canyon, its hard to understand just how massive the thing is until you get there. You’ll meet lots of designers and board game celebs (I bumped fists with Tom Vassel and a bunch of others) and generally be utterly overwhelmed by what to do for the first few hours. That’s OK though, there’s a stall in there that sells beer as well 🙂