So the desire to post nightly updates from Essen kind of fell by the wayside thanks to a combination of a lack of stable wifi and sheer, total exhaustion. Next year I’ll do better, promise!
So here’s the rundown on my first experience of Spiel. I can safely say that if you’ve never been to the fair and you’ve got even a passing interest in games, Essen is an event that you need to get to at least once. Even if you’re only able to head over for a day Spiel is an incredible experience; from seeing the packed out halls to checking out the hundreds of new games that are available, it’s a place you must visit.
For me, the main focus of the show was to speak to as many people face-to-face as possible. Not only was I trying to get as many interviews as possible (I actually ended up with over forty, meaning that there’ll be at least three special Little Metal Dog Shows going up over the next couple of weeks) but I also wanted to put faces to the voices that I’ve been lucky to speak to since the podcast first started. I also managed to catch up with loads of new people over the space of the four days, many of whom you’ll hear from on the show.
Of course, Essen is all about games and I got to play plenty while I was over there. There’s this amazing atmosphere where everyone is so approachable; if you spot an empty seat while people are setting up a game, you can just wander up and join in. People are incredibly friendly and even if they might not have the greatest grasp on whatever language you may speak, you’ll be able to muddle by – you’re all learning new games together, after all.
There didn’t seem to be a single Big Game that truly defined the show. Where in previous years titles like Dominion dominated and 7 Wonders was wondrous, Spiel ’11 felt like there were many games that were drawing the attention of attendees. Panic Station seemed to be the first game to board the hype train, selling out completely within an hour of the doors opening on the first day. As the show went on, the BGG hot list continued to update with games like Stalag 17 and Air Show from Gen-X and NSKN’s Warriors and Traders proving solid sellers. The German magazine Fair Play were also compiling a hotlist of their own, the honours going to Tournay from Pearl Games, designed by the same team behind Troyes.
Game highlights for me included the really quite fantastic Space Maze from Wacky Works, a puzzle game with the cutest wooden alien pieces you have ever seen. By manipulating the board, you manoeuvre around a spaceship trying to claim a relic. Get it back to your home base and you’ll win but it’s far from a simple task. The game mechanics mean that you may only move once per turn but can scupper your opponents by shifting the tiles that make up the board. Not a game to be underestimated – yes, it’s very sweet looking, but there’s a lot to consider while playing it.
Nefarious from Ascora Games was another excellent game newly released at Spiel ’11. Designed by Dominion creator Donald X. Vaccarino, it’s a quick playing game of world domination with a comedy twist. It’s very straightforward with players selecting one of four actions per round; putting a minion in one of four areas of your lair (which could potentially earn you cash), inventing terrifying devices, developing new gear or gaining money. It’s a race to twenty points with each invention worth a certain amount as well as potentially having effects on both yourself and your fellow mad scientists. A relatively light game but lots of fun – and who wouldn’t like to own a Buttered Cat Array?
I was lucky enough to pick up an advance copy of Alf Seegert’s The Road to Canterbury from the folks at Eagle Games – one of the perks of voicing the Kickstarter and tutorial videos! Despite it only being a two or three player game, it’s very good indeed and is beautifully produced. The artwork is excellent, sure, but it’s the components that blew me away. They are incredible – it even comes in the most solid box in the history of gaming. You could throw this off a house and it’d not even be dented. If you backed it on Kickstarter recently you will not be disappointed.
The best thing about the whole Essen experience for me wasn’t the games though – it was the people I got to meet and hang out with. Rory O’Connor and Anita Murphy, the driving forces behind Rory’s Story Cubes, are both lovely people who are working bloody hard to live out their dreams of producing a fantastic game (and I’m not saying that because Rory forced a full set of Cubes on me at Dusseldorf Airport!). Colby Dauch from Plaid Hat Games is one of the nicest blokes in the industry who should be very pleased with what Playdek (also splendid chaps!) are doing with Summoner Wars on iOS. Richard Bliss and Laurence O’Brien are inspiring fellows who seem to know everyone in the business and make for excellent lunch companions. Finally, you couldn’t ask for a better games mule or room-mate than Paco from GMS Magazine, though he may hit me for that.
So that’s about it. There’s a lot of writing and editing to do from here on in. I picked up a LOT of games during the four days in Germany so there’s plenty of new stuff to play and review. Lessons learnt include make sure you eat properly and regularly, wear supportive shoes, bring a comfortable backpack and book a room in the Atlantic Congress Hotel. I’m utterly exhausted, my feet and back are killing me, I want to learn a bit more German and I feel invigorated about starting to design new games. Same time next year, then?
Definitely. See you there.