Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Wow! What an epic few days that was! There is something special about the Essen Spiel. It feels bigger, more significant, and more of an event than any other convention or expo that I have been too.
And why is that? I cannot say for sure, but there are a number of contributing factors.
The physical size. This year we had six main halls to explore and play in. All mostly used up. It’s a massive event in the literal sense.
The number of new games launching at Essen is vast. It fits perfectly into the run into Christmas so publishers aim to launch at Essen to get the big PR push right at a peak buying time.
The location. The fact that many see Germany as the spiritual home of modern board games, with so many great designers, publishers, and games coming out of Germany over the last 30 years. And of course, some of the biggest awards and prizes in our industry are of German origin.
But all in, none of this really sums up the feeling created by going to Essen for this bonanza of games! Meeting friends from all over the world at Essen feels special. People flock to this convention in their thousands and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. It’s the people that make it.
So, with that, here is my run down of my experiences of Essen with my own personal highlights. I will also include a few tips for anyone who plans to go in the future.
Best Game I played – Excavation Earth. Oh my! What a beauty this is! And the choices available are numerous and wonderful.
Best small box game – Riverside is a delightful roll and write from the designer behind The Magnificent. It plays beautifully and has some wonderful options.
Best Party game – Taco, Cat. Goat Cheese, Pizza. Every time I walked past this stand I stopped for a quick game and had some hilarious experiences with different people. I bought two copies!
Best Game coming to Kickstarter soon – The Fog: Escape from Paradise. This game looks amazing and is coming to Kickstarter 2022. I hope to feature more on this here soon. But in short, its fantastic.
Best Stand – I liked the IELLO stand where they had many games set up and multiples times for each one, and the box for each game set up was raised up high so you could tell from afar what was there. There was plenty of people on hand to each you, and a separate area to buy so the queues for each didn’t cross over. The Paleo stand was probably the most physically impressive with a large and very cool set-up.
Parking – Book your parking before hand and get to the spiel around 9-9:15 if you can. The show starts at 10, and the near by car parks get busy. Parking on site is not expensive, and there are plenty of sites if the closer ones are full up. But there will be queues forming if you come later. But be mindful of the local traffic too if it’s a weekday, it’s a little busy around 8:30 due to commuter traffic. Although this year, everything seems quiet most the time due to the reduced numbers.
How busy is it? What’s the best day to go? – Thursday and Friday are typically quieter due to the locals coming for weekend. So, if you want a slightly more sedate experience, Thursday should be your day. But it will still be packed! However, this year was an anomaly with the covid restrictions for international travelers and high risk visitors making numbers overall seem way down. And of course, even with less halls and space being used this year, it was still busy and on occasions crammed. But even at its peak in 2019, it still felt large enough to cope with all those people and stands or queues never get too crazy.
How to get in – There are a number of entrances, and everyone tends to go to the one by hall 1 as they want to get into the main part first. As such, the queues here are bigger and fill up quicker. If you head round to the entrance by hall 8 you will find the queues much shorter and move a lot quicker. You will obviously enter the convention in a completely different place though. But this year, it was handy as it was right by the stand for Golem which was the game I wanted to get first!
Where to stay – There are several hotels close by and in the near by town, but they get booked up quick and are expensive for this period of the show. But there is an after-show buzz to enjoy! I have stayed both times in Dusseldorf. It is a 25-minute drive and has a lovely Old Town to visit in the evenings. And the hotels are much cheaper. But it does feel like you are out of it in the evenings, and you miss some of the buzz.
Sold Out! – Prior to the Spiel, there will be many hyped games. The BGG hot list is the main way this seems to happen, and with just a few hundred thumbs up, a game can rocket to the top of the list. This will then often lead to long queues at these stands on the first morning. This year, this happened for a few games, and some of these sold out. The UK edition of Ark Nova going before the show evening opened, with the 9-10 am slot reserved for exhibitors, seemingly being enough to shift all copies of that game! So, if you want something specific, get there early on the first day, or pre-order. Even if the publisher is not advertising a pre-order, you can still reach out to them directly and ask to do that.
Language barrier – Every person seems to speak multiple languages at the show. Exhibitors often have handy badges with national flags on showing their spoken languages. If you are looking for a demo or help, it will always be close by. The staff at all stands are amazing. If you are looking for a copy of a game in a specific language, again, this will be possible. Most are German language, but there are plenty in English too. But often the price will be better in German, so look out for those language independent games! And don’t forget, you can download most rule books in any language online.
Food – In between some of the halls there is a long thin hall with a few exhibitors, but mostly food stands. Donner kebabs, Burgers, Burritos. That type of thing. There are a few tables and chairs to sit on, but not loads. A lot of people end up on the floor. You can bring your own food if you want. The prices are all reasonable. But the choice isn’t huge. Queues are fine. People seem to eat at various stages in the day. There is nothing really local bar a nice bakery about 10 minutes’ walk south, unless you want to drive.
Playing games – Exhibition space at Essen is at a premium so often stands will only have a few tables to play games on. They obviously fill up quick for the bigger and more popular games. Some stands will have sign up sheets to book in slots, but if you want to try something specific then I suggest you go there early. Waiting for a slot is a chance to learn the game and still a great experience watching others.
When playing yourself, be mindful, if you are playing a long game, the person demonstrating the game may not want you to play the entire game. They will want to maximise the amount of people who get to try it so may only want you to play a few rounds or turns. Most of the smaller or less popular games you can play the whole thing, but just be mindful of this expectation upfront for the bigger ones and perhaps clarify that at the start so you don’t end up disappointed. If you want to play a game that requires more people than your group, then most stands work this out quite well for you and group people together.
Buying games – This is easy. Buy what you want! But I would suggest you try and seek out the popular ones first. And any that you are unsure on, try to play it first. Also, don’t be suckered into deals you don’t want. Many popular games will be at a stand with a 3 for 2 deal. They know they have a hot property and will try and use that to encourage you to buy other games from their archives. This is all fine if you want them, but we all have limited budgets right!
Carrying games – This is the hardest part of the show. You will see people with trolleys, suitcases, all kinds of ways to get their purchased cardboard home. There are stalls selling great cases and portable fold up trolleys at the show. So, if you don’t have one, you can still get one. They are very reasonably priced. There are also shipping companies there, ready to package up your new games and send them to you, again for very reasonable prices. Or you can just put them into a carrier bag provided by the publisher that sold them to you! But be mindful, if you buy a few, and you buy early, then your arms, shoulders, and hands are going to hurt!
What to bring – Comfy shoes! You will do a lot of steps! A drink. There are not that many places to buy them and you will be talking a lot! As such, perhaps some throat sweets too! Wear light, comfy clothes. Its warm enough inside for t-shirt only. But be mindful that outside, it’s the German Autumn, so a coat or jumper for the evening or queue outside in the morning if you plan to get there early will be welcome.
Cash v Card – Obviously this is your preference. But note, some stands unbelievably only take cash. Even some of the bigger stands and they won’t always display this clearly. Worth checking before you queue up if you don’t have both. There are cash points here, but not many and they are hard to find with terrible sign posting! Worth having a bit of both and bring it with you!
That’s your lot. Essen is an amazing experience and one I hope everyone gets a chance to have at least once. If you plan to go next year and have any questions just let me know or drop them in the comments below. See you there in 2022 and happy gaming!