I’m back from Essen and full of excitement and stories to tell! I’ll be regaling tales of my Essen adventure in the next few blog posts starting with this one which is an overview of what Essen is all about and what it’s like to be there. There will be a lack of photos to corroborate any of my stories as I lost my camera while I was there – boo!
First of all, wow. I knew Essen was big but it’s really big! It takes up Halls 4 through 12 at the convention centre and is densely packed with booths full of game publishers, game retailers, comic retailers and artists as well as a variety of retailers selling related merchandise. Each Hall has its own purpose:
- Hall 4: Independent game publishers and used game sellers
- Hall 6: RPGs, LARPing, costumes, war-gaming
- Hall 7: kind of a room full of leftovers
- Hall 8: Comic retailers and artists
- Hall 5 and 9-12: The board game Halls with Hall 12 probably being the ‘main’ hall with the biggest publishers
Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, the halls started filling up quick. People were running to try and get to the booth that had a game they wanted – probably running because of limited copies or special Essen-only exclusives: like Martin Wallace’s limited edition of A Few Acres of Snow.
Some publishers shared a booth with 1 or 2 other publishers to reduce the cost while others would have their own booth – or their own ‘block’ like Hasbro or Haba. If you aren’t in the business then you’d probably recognize about 5% of the publishers at the Fair. Most of them are more focused in Europe, where gaming is a bigger business than in North America. Almost every booth would have tables set up with a demo of each of their games ready to play. Most publishers have a small army of people to help explain the games to the attendees. Sometimes you’ll only get to play a round or two before they usher you away so they can explain it all over again to another set of eager gamers. Other times you can stake a claim at a table and play an entire game as long as it doesn’t get too busy.
Most publishers will have piles and piles of their games that are for sale but it’s important for Anglophones to ensure the game you’re picking up is English, or at least has English rules if the game play is language independent. Prices are usually pretty hot since they are being sold directly from the publisher, with most games selling for 20-35 Euros (unless it’s the new, fancy version of Puerto Rico which was selling for 65 Euros). Be sure to ask if there’s an Essen exclusive expansion for the game and you will be surprised from time to time! When I bought Kingdom Builder from Queen Games I got an expansion for it as well as one for Alhambra – another game I own!
Many of the games at Essen are games that launch there. This is the first time anyone has been able to play these brand new games. Some of these games may never be published in North America while others might take 3-12 months until it hits Stateside. Essen is an important part of a business plan for a publisher. Sure it costs them money to get themselves and their games to Essen, and it costs them per square foot for their booth, but the sales of their games along with all the marketing, hype and discussions about the games makes it a no-brainer.
Two of the most visited booths are the BGG (boardgamegeek) booth and the Fairplay (a German board game magazine that is an authority on the subject) booth. They both have a system for ranking games based on users voting on which games are hot/good/interesting. BGG projects a continually running loop of the ever-changing top 25 games. Fairplay is more analogue and they just have copies of the games that are voted as hot on a shelf and numbered 1-10. The BGG ranking works really well at BGG.con as each person who attends gets one unique entry code, but at Essen they can’t police that as much and so people can get multiple codes throughout the event and vote something up or down as they please. Still, both are interesting and have helped guide me to games I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Both of these rankings have weight not just at the Fair itself but after the Fair as it’s reported back to the masses on websites and in magazines. These rankings often are key indicators of which games they should be on the look-out for in the near future.
Thursday and Friday were pretty busy with people but they were nothing compared to how insanely packed it got on Saturday. On Saturday you could barely move down the too-narrow aisles as people jostled you this way and that. That was not my favourite part of Essen and I had to leave before the day ended. Fortunately a few of the members of GAC were staying at a hotel somewhat nearby called Bredeney that offered a free room for people to play games in at any time. It was great to relax and check out the goods we just got, and was where we found ourselves every night. The room was quite large and could hold over 20 gaming sessions of 4-6 players each and was packed every night.
What’s also interesting is that all of our game design ‘heroes’ were all there. Some of them had actual sessions where you could get autographs, but others you could see walking around and buying games at the Fair. It was impossible to miss Freidmann Freisse as he has green hair and I saw him multiple times. Martin Wallace was seen explaining A Few Acres of Snow and many others were seen giving autographs. One morning I was there early for a meeting, and I found myself at the booth that was selling the 7 Wonders Essen exclusive expansion that featured a call out to the Settlers of Catan. Two minutes later I’m walking down the aisle with just this piece of cardboard in my hands when I see a line of 6-7 people getting autographs from Klaus Tueber – designer of the most popular Eurogame of all time: Settlers of Catan. Well, I couldn’t pass this up – and so I waited 3 minutes in line and got my 7 Wonders expansion signed by Tueber! Neat!
All in all, the event was pretty much what I was expecting: a big convention full of publishers and gamers who are all passionate about the hobby of gaming. I’m already making plans to attend next year!
Up next I’ll go into details about what it’s like for a designer to attend Essen!