Friday, 16 November 2007

Essen Report 2007

Ok. I should have posted this last month, so sorry for the delay.

For those that don't know, Essen Internationalen Spieltage (Spiel '07) is an annual game fair held over four days in October at a large exhibition hall in Essen, Germany. It is a essentially a trade show for boardgames, card games and CCGs, with designers and publishers demonstrating their latest releases. However, it is open to the public and and also has retailers selling games at discount, and a large contingent of second hand stalls with a wide range of new and used games.

I attended this board gaming Mecca on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th October - the quieter days before the weekend crush.

DAY 1 - Thursday.

Prior to the event I'd compiled a comprehensive list of games that I wanted to check out or buy. I lost that list. So with a rough list of games scrawled on the back of a prescription for my medication (which I also forgot) I entered the massive exhibition centre at Essen already feeling at a disadvantge. I was accompanied by my girlfriend Liz. After a bit of aimless wandering, looking at the sights and sounds, we managed to check out a number of games that we thought we'd like to play as a couple, however the two big name contenders Zooloretto (winner of the Spiel des Jahre 2007) and Ticket to Ride: Switzerland were both rejected after a few sample games. Zoorloretto, which we both enjoyed as a four player game, was awful with just two. And Ticket to Ride: Switzerland was terribly unbalanced and luck ridden with the emphasis on tunnels and the fact the the locomotive wild cards couldn't be used in normal routes. We had far more fun playing Bausack, where we were stacking irregular blocks to create fantasy castles on par with mad king Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle, which we had visited down in Bavaria only days before.

After a pretty exhausting first day and a couple of large bags of games to show for our toil, we made our way to the exit when I noticed MoD Games and their chief designer Andreas Steding. Now his name might not mean much to the casual reader, but those who know Norwich Board Gamers' very own Andy Malcolm will realise that he is none other than the designer of the infamous Kogge and therefore Andy's arch nemesis (see Kogge, Kogge, Monkey Snogger for Andy's feeling on the game). I had rather jokingly told Andy that I'd get a picture of me slapping Mr Steading, but now coming face to face
with this man of banality I realised that I had to strike a much heavier blow.

The Steding had captured a couple of young teenagers and was now forcing them to try his new game Macht und Ohnmacht (which roughly translates to 'An Eternity of Boredom and Pain'). Like the young children at the bottom of my street who are lured in by the crumpled old man and his handful of Werther's Originals, these teenagers had been lured to the table by The Steding's promise of a "war game". However, there was nothing here resembling a war game, only pointless cube pushing, mind numbing boredom and the very real danger of a sweaty groping. I knew I had to stop the menace. Thrusting my games into Liz's arms I raced to the Kosmos display, grabbing a container of fat from the bratwurst stand and a lighter off a nearby smoker. The centrepiece of the Kosmos display was a life-size model of Iorek Byrnison, the armoured polar bear from Philip Pullman's book, film and now game, The Golden Compass. Kicking away the supports and dousing the hairy beast in the highly flammable grease, I set light to Iorek and sent the bear hurtling down the aisle. The giant flaming bear slammed into the Mod Games stand sending The Steading flying across the hall and instantly setting light to the thin and flimsy abominations that The Steading had been peddling: Macht und Ohnmacht, Kogge and the incomprehensibly evil Kogge: Bonholm, all went up in flames. The Steding, now back on his feet, tried desperately to stamp out the flames, but before he could reach them, the two teenagers, now free from the evil spell, pushed over a stack of the fearsomely heavily Tide of Iron, sending The Steding crashing back to the floor, where he was no doubt trapped for at least week.

As I fled to the exit, pursued by security, cheers and applause rang around Hall 12. And as I finally skipped out through the exit on to the waiting train I felt a warm glow knowing that I'd not only struck a blow for liberty, justice and exciting board games, but also burned a giant 8 foot polar bear, and in the end, isn't that what's really important?


The second day I attended the fair on my own as Liz had an overwhelming need to buy some shoes. I'd been minding my own business when I heard a "HEY!" and felt a hand grip my shoulder. In an instant I'd worked out the best escape route and was ready to flee the scene, overturning the low table on which a family were about to play Darjeeling and make my escape through the throng of smokers stood around the exit to Hall 11. However, a split second of hesitation saved the young family as I realised that Andreas Steading didn't have a Scottish accent. Ah, that'll be Jimmy, then. Jimmy had bought all the games that he could fit in his suitcase on day one and announced to me that he only had room for one more. "The box is so big and I only have room for one more." he said as he put back Sierra Madre's monster effort 'Origins of Man: How we became human'. "Only one more." Jimmy shouted over the noise as we hustled past the crowd checking out Alea's new big box game 'In the Year of the Dragon'. "Just one more" he wailed as he resigned himself to never owning C4/Creative Cell's secretly society game 'The Circle'. We ambled through the halls, trying out the nicely produced but rather average Cheng Chang and finally sat down to try out Valley Game's Container. It was at this point that Tom joined us. It was Tom's first day at Essen and having initially been awed by the size of the fair he was now itching to try some games. Helping us learn Container was the rather unlikely Miss Canada. She took an instant liking to Jimmy, but he soon managed to fight off her advances with some well timed remarks which questioned her ability at medium weight euros, her understanding of the rules and her choice of eye shadow. This played directly into Tom's hands as he'd been pawing at her for the last half hour and despite everyone's misgivings her advice to her new champion paid dividends and Tom was crowned the victor.

We all agreed that Container was a great game, but once again Jimmy lamented that he only had space for one more game and Container had a rather big box. It was at this moment that Tom changed from a that annoying jammy sod into Jimmy's saviour. Like an angel descending from heaven and with a ray of light illuminating him and he pronounced "I have a car and I haven't bought any games so I've got loads of space." Jimmy's prayers had been answered and after a quick mental calculation, a number of games with large boxes including Container and Origins of Man were thrust into Tom's arms.

After a trip to Tom's car and a slow game of Race for the Galaxy, which I then decided not to buy, Jimmy decided that with no more money or space for games he'd get back to his hotel in order to get a good spot at a gaming table (but not before he blagged a Euro off Tom so he could back to the hotel, having spent his last on that ONE last game). Tom and I wandered the halls for a while longer. We sifted through the second hand games stalls. I picked up the games I'd made a note of earlier. Tom tried to steal games from the green haired designer Freidman Friese. I eventually left Tom at a game stall deliberating whether he should buy the French edition of Robo Rally for Crocker. And with a couple of last minute impulse buys I left the fair in order to find Liz, a beer hall and a huge plate of mixed pork.


Jimmy's early departure paid off as that evening he got to play some cool games with the guys from Counter Magazine, Richard Breese (designer of Reef Encounter) and a few other notable designers whose names escape me.

Liz and Matt got to the beer hall in Dusseldorf where they gorged themselves on a large plate of pork products washed down with some excellent Altbier.

Despite Tom's proclamation that he wasn't buying many games, and had loads of space, he ended up buying 74 games. As a result his young son ended up wearing his entire wardrobe on the return flight and Tom pawned his wedding ring to pay for excess baggage.

1 comment:

andy malcolm said...

fantastic report matt, i was going to post a reply using my PDA, but you know...