Daily Illuminator

October 28, 2011: Auf Wiedersehen, Essen!

A crowded Pegasus Spiel booth at Essen 2011

I'm mostly over my jet lag, so it's time to share some of my thoughts and impressions of Spiel 2011, in Essen, Germany.

First: WOW. Before I left, I asked my co-workers and friends who had been to the show to tell me what to expect. "We can't," they said, almost without exception. "We can tell you that it sits in a dozen exhibit halls and has well over 100,000 visitors a year, and that won't mean anything until you walk the hall and experience the show for yourself." Boy, they weren't kidding. Until you realize that you've been browsing in Hall 4 and you have a meeting in Hall 12 in five minutes, you don't realize just how big each hall is. (Very.) And on Saturday afternoon, forget about getting anywhere in a hurry; it's a human traffic jam in just about every hallway. Luckily there were snack carts selling everything from crepes to currywurst to keep me sustained in my travels.

The weather was lovely, if a bit chillier than I'm used to this time of year. (Edmonton, Alberta, had the same trouble last year. Just rotten luck, I suppose.) We made the half-hour walk between our hotel and the convention hall several times over the course of the five days we were there, and except for one grayish day, it was bright and sunny the whole time.

I owe a special debt of thanks to all the delightful fans I met and chatted with, especially when my one semester of college German 20 years ago tried to assert itself and I got way over my head in a German conversation I never should have attempted in the first place. Next year, I'll bring a phrasebook app. And what a lovely surprise to see so many families with children, even small children, attending the show and having fun together. HUGE thanks to everyone who took pity on my schrecklich Deutsche and switched to English.

There were a few trends that definitely stood out for me:

  • Deck-building games (such as Dominion and Thunderstone) continue to be hot. Both of those games released a new expansion at Essen, and there were probably a dozen or more new deck-builders debuting at this show.
  • Donald X. Vaccarino is everywhere. In addition to Dominion, he had a standalone fun card game (Nefarious) and an extremely Euro game (Kingdom Builder) available.
  • I had dozens of people every day tell me how much they loved Munchkin and SJ Games in general, which was very nice indeed.
  • I hadn't realized that Spiel partnered with a show called Comic Action, which led to a bit of a shock when I rounded a corner and saw what looked for all the world like a little slice of Comic-Con, including used-comic dealers, comic stores competing on prices to the detriment of each other, and autograph lines at the DC and Marvel booths.
  • The word of the show seemed to be Kickstarter; several smaller publishers told me that they had funded the development, design, and printing of their games mostly or entirely through Kickstarter pledges. Three titles that come immediately to mind are Max Holliday's Eaten By Zombies, Kevin Lanzing's Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and Philip duBarry's Kingdom of Solomon. (Philip, of course, is the designer of Revolution!, so we're thrilled that he's getting more of his game ideas out there.)

Finally, I definitely must thank all the folks at Pegasus Spiele who made my trip possible. They could not have been more gracious and more charming hosts.

Looking forward to next year!

-- Andrew Hackard

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