There and back again… A one day road trip to Spiel at Essen 2010…

Last year, I joined friends for a 1-day road trip for my first Essen experience and I decided to have another go this year. It was a tough day in the sense that it was a long drive and the physicality of dealing with the crowds was  tiring as well, adding to this I have a bad back which can only handle so much. But it was an AWESOME experience and although I was a little wary about doing it all again this year… as they say, if you snooze, you lose!

So onward and upward, we Merry Men, we Band of Brothers, Forward the Light Brigade!

So I planned a 1-day roadtrip with Tony and Alan from West Sussex to Essen for the 2010 Spiel. Getting to bed early for a few hours sleep was a good idea and very helpful. We set off a bit after 2am (I drove…) for the EuroTunnel station at Folkestone, Kent for the 5am crossing. Then it was across a piece of Northern France from Calais past Dunkirk, into Belgium, hanging a right at Antwerp, into Holland past Eindhoven and on into the Ruhr area of  Germany and got to Essen by 11:00 Germany time. The drive was long but uneventful other than a little traffic at Antwerp and a little satnav confusion.

We planned to stay until about 4pm and had our work before us. Thankfully, we all had sifted through the new release lists on the Spiel website and had a plan of attack. This was Alan’s first trip to Spiele and my second. Tony is a more seasoned veteran.  We had told Alan that it was impossible to really understand what Spiel is like unless he experienced it himself. This is an ADULT DOSE for sure. The crowds were there but apparently not quite as many as Thursday and Friday thank goodness as it was pretty crowded already. No surprise as apparently something like 130,000 were expected over the 4 days. Thankfully, gaming buddy Joseph had picked up our entry tickets and met us outside so we didn’t have to queue!

Jumping into the fray, I was off to see  a few specific people to pick up some great games, including Joanne Soued of FRED Distribution to pick up a copy of Defenders of the Realm. Nothing like a weighty game to start off! Then across the hall was the tiny Boardgamegeek booth where I met up with Doug and Shelley Garrett of Garrett’s Games and Geekiness podcast. They were there meeting with loads of game company reps who were demoing their new releases over the 4 days. We had a good laugh as they told me about their roadtrip from Paris through Belgium without a satnav (not for the faint hearted!). I must commend the BGG folks for providing such a great service allowing as many board game companies to demo their games via web streaming so that we could all see and hear all about their new games. This was particularly useful as there were a LOT of new releases!

Later I popped by to see Phil Eklund of Sierra Madre Games. What a nice guy! Loved his crazy hat! Clearly very passionate about science (he is, after all, a rocket scientist) it is hard not to catch the vision of his High Frontier game and I look forward to playing and reviewing it. The game board is awesome and listening to a demo, it sounds just so interesting. Apparently the Red Chinese player can get up to to nice back-stabbing stuff if you like that sort of thing 😉

I finally caught up with Bart Nijssen and the guys from White Goblin games and they were plenty busy! They had 4 new releases and I picked up Inca Empire. I think that it is great to see small companies sprouting up, even in the current world economic situation. It bodes well for our wonderful hobby. There was a good buzz around their stand and loads of other new and small company stands.

The big boys were out in force including Rio Grande and Days of Wonder and their stands, of course were heaving. Huge stands for HABA and others were filled with families playing together. Lots of excitement and fun pervaded the atmosphere. Family gaming is the key to the future of the hobby so start em young I say!

Essen can be overwhelming and it is very easy to get lost. Having a plan as to must haves and nice-to haves is really helpful and it surely helped me stick to my budget and stay focused as to where I needed to go and who I wanted to see. The huge halls, teeming with people is quite amazing. The best thing for me is seeing so many families out for a day of board game goodness. Also, I borrowed a luggage trolley from another good gaming buddy, Mike which made life a lot easier on my back. Note to self – THIS IS A MUST on any future visits!

It was so great to meet such nice people. I particularly enjoyed meeting so many entrepreneurs in start up game companies plying their wares including and not limited to the good folks of – FRED Distribution, Mayday Games, Kuznia Gier, Prime Games, Gen X and Cranio Creations.

Essen is a great opportunity for them to get a toehold and position themselves as they seek to raise awareness of their creative work. Really nice to see a wider variety of companies from different countries which all helps to internationalize our hobby. They aren’t all producing games of high quality that you would expect from the big boys but that doesn’t matter much to me. They are learning and the more we all support the smaller companies, the more of them will survive and produce great games. The law of abundance says there should be plenty of opportunity for everyone if they have the smarts and creativity and so it should be.  This also means we will have more choice and as the hobby becomes more mainstream, the prices should come down as well. All good news in my book.

So all in all, a great day with great company, meeting great people producing great games! My haul is a pretty good spread amongst the smaller companies and you will be seeing reviews on them all here.

Here is my list on BGG –

Tony the veteran’s view-

Huh? What? That can’t be the alarm clock already! Oh yes it is: it’s 1am and I’m off to Essen for a day trip from Sussex!

I did this long day before (in 2006) and told myself then I wouldn’t do it again, yet here I am….

There’s clearly a lot of adrenalin pumping, as I hop straight out of bed when the alarm goes off (not something I can manage on a normal day nowadays!), and I’m all set to go 20 minutes later. To pass the time until Alan comes to pick me up, I switch the TV on, and Saving Private Ryan has just started: it’s right on the famous D-Day beach landing scene, and it seems oddly symbolic as we are about to set off on our own little invasion of Europe!

Alan and I have fun finding Mark’s house in the slightly odd layout off his road, but we’re all on the road shortly after 2am, and get to the Channel Tunnel terminal in very good time. Fill the waiting time listening to Mumford and Sons on the iPhone and reading through Mark’s printed off list of everyone who has a stall at Essen and what they wil have with them. Drooling…..

On the train, we realised no-one had even brought a deck of normal cards – and we call ourselves gamers?!?! Fortunately, the iPhone came to the rescue again, and we battled (with moderate success) the AI opponents in a 5-player games of the Carcassonne app (albeit only the easy ones!)

The drive the other side is pleasant enough. It really gives me an odd feeling watching the sun come up, as it happens so rarely that you actually get the chance to watch it happening. The beginning of the drive seems to go quickly, but the latter part seems to stretch on, and we finally reach the Messe about 11am, but by this time have to park quite a long way out. Fortunately Joseph has queued and bought our tickets for us, so we can go straight in.

What to say about the 5 hours we were in the halls themselves? Well, even though I’d been twice before, I was still really hyped up. As Alan said, it was like the feeling children have at Christmas! I was pretty organised this year, and had a pretty clear list of things I was interested in, with the stand location of the relevant publisher listed next to each. I have 3 or 4 pre-orders than needed collection before noon, so zoomed off to get those first, and had a very nice conversation with the chap on the Ascora stand whilst picking up my copy of Kaigan.

Come noon there was a meet-up with Joseph, Mike, and Garry, who had been out there since Wednesday evening. After a brief chat to compare notes, pick up the latest tips, and get a group photo, we all split up and it was off into the throng again. Saturday is probably the hardest day: even though the children apparently were off both the previous days as well, and both those days were therefore busy, it is still Saturday that is the biggest crush. There were quite a few times when the inevitably crushed thin alleyways between stalls just seemed to grind to a halt. And even on my third trip, and with a good floorplan from the freebie handed out on the door, I still found myself disoriented quite often when trying to get from one hall to another. But it’s all really part of the experience.

Weirdly enough, having taken 300 Euros, I got to 3pm and still had 100 left, with no strong desire to buy anything else. Most unlike me, as on previous trips I’ve blown the lot and even had to borrow a bit to get that last bargain, but I was no doubt helped by the non-appearance of a couple of games I’d hoped would be there (The Tenno’s Court expansion for Shogun, and Cadwallon – City of Thieves). I was still on the lookout for a game that I could specifically get to play with my kids, but I didn’t really want to get anything that was specifically a children’s game, as they’re really getting to the age where I’d like to get them into the more meaty games if I can. So I swung by the AEG stand and plumped for a copy of The Adventurers, based on some great fun we’ve had in my gaming groups with this, the very easy rules, and the fact I know the kids love the Indiana Jones films. I also got Thunderstone, which I have been wanting to try for some time (and suspect I will prefer to Dominion), plus an interesting-looking card game that was only 10 Euros – then they threw in another card game for free!

Met up with Mark and Alan around 3.30, then each of us nipped off to get a last item unencumbered, whilst the others watched the bags. Unfortunately, in my case that involved a trek to the diametrically opposite corner of the Messe to scan the second hand stalls for a second-hand copy of Ra! Not a one to be found, despite there being half a dozen new copies still in shrink and accordingly full whack. However, I did manage to scoop a copy of the new Hive Carbon (that includes the Mosquito and Ladybird expansions) for 19 Euros. It’s definitely always worth checking out the Spiel Offensive stall for real bargains.

That long last trek across the still-crowded halls meant we were quite late getting away from Essen in the end, but Mark managed to get us to the Tunnel terminal with precision (4 minutes to spare until the check-in closed to be exact!), but without having us end up like one of the two nasty accidents we saw on the motorway back, and despite the absolutely torrential rain we had for part of it as well!

Sad to say, I was really struggling to keep my eyes open by this point, and I caught myself nodding off once or twice, but Alan did sterling work in chatting to Mark to help him stay awake. Oddly enough, the trip back to the Tunnel seemed the opposite of the one in: Germany and Holland seemed to go quickly, but then Belgium and France seemed much slower….

A decidely bumpy train ride back, then Mark ate up the miles on the last stretch back to his house. We collected Alan’s car, and despite an initial worry that we might grind to a halt due to a lack of fuel, I made it back home just before 10pm. It was, as always, a great day with great people, and well worth the effort, but by the end of it you really know why you wouldn’t want to do it any more often than once a year! Massive thanks to Alan and Mark for the great company on the day, and Mark especially for the sterling job with that long old drive!

The final haul: Kaigan (inc. Tiger’s Eye token); The Adventurers; 7 Wonders (inc. 8th Wonder, ex-ludis, and T-shirt); Nobunaga; R-Eco Recycle; Triumvirate; Haggis; The Resistance; Thunderstone; Conflict of Heroes – Price of Honour; Myth Pantheons; The Isle of Doctor Necreaux; Hive Carbon; Jean-Claude van Rice card for Ghost Stories (thanks Joseph!); Russia & Japan expansion maps for Power Grid; Yin Yang; Paul the Octopus expansion for Zooloretto; Be Not Afraid and Necromancer Island expansions for Small World.

Alan the Spiel newbie’s view…

My first Essen trip.

Wow what a day; my first ever trip to Essen and a road trip with the boys. What more could a geek boy ask for… don’t answer that.

So it was with a bleary eye and a yawn that we hit the road at 2am Saturday morning and didn’t look back; we hit Essen at about 10.30am, continental time, and on entering the hall for the first time – wow again and again. It’s very big, which may be obvious to you veterans, but cast your mind back to that first time if you can; I know, take that grin of your face, I could feel my wallet getting lighter by the second as I pushed my way through that first hall.

I was very grateful to my friend Joe who guided me to my first pre-order in hall 4, Basilica and K2 from Cash exchanged hands and so it started. Back through room 6, very scary, a very nice lady I’m sure, in chain mail with her battleaxe wielding troll friend neatly side stepped and we were off, Caravelas, then De Vulgari Eloqentia, back through room 6, my gaze averted, and it was time to meet up again. Then the afternoon to wander on my own and I have to say the whole experience was fantastic if a little bewildering. I picked up some new and older games in the afternoon the highlights being the prototype of Kings Vineyard, The Climbers from Chili Spiele and a small abstract game called Splits, which I got the chance to play, as well as a few older games picked up very cheap.

The thing I liked about Essen was the amount of families out and playing games, there was even a mass memory game competition going on, played by kids and adults alike. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and apart from some confusion over German Sausages we coped well with the different languages from all over the world; the whole day had a very international feel. A great day out, good friends and I even kept within budget, but only because I could never find my way back to the same stall twice. Anyway off now to my first solo climb of K2, wish me luck.

Doug and Shelley Garrett                                                       High Frontier


2 thoughts on “There and back again… A one day road trip to Spiel at Essen 2010…”

  1. Great reports and thanks for posting photos. Those of us on the other side of the pond have to live vicariously through those who can attend – even if it requires many hours of early morning driving.

    I really liked hearing about all the families that attend together. We think that’s fantastic.


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