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Essen Spiel 2022 Retrospective

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Well, where do I begin? After 724 miles, (and that's just me walking around the halls) I am home from Essen. Coming to the end of something you hype in your mind for so long , always brings mixed feelings. I am very tired, and not 100% physically well with a little bug (not Covid!), but my mind is full of happy memories. Close to 150,000 people graced the 6 halls of the show over the four days. Over 1,200 new games were on display. Publishers from all over the world come to Essen to try and get a little bit of limelight shined onto their game. In this retrospective, I will try and give a flavour of how the show was for me. As well as sharing the thoughts of a few friends.

The Logistics.

Getting to the show and the overall logistics of planning are always difficult for me. I have been with and without my family before. And I don't want to do it again without them. But the show is early October now, so not in UK School holidays, which makes it tough to have my children with me the entire time. They are 9 and 7 currently. But I also don't want to force them and my wife around the halls for too long. So, going for a day on my own, and then to have them join me for a day seems about perfect. This year, I was kindly given a lift by Marie from @Burton_boards which allowed me to travel separately from my family, without much added expense. Thank you Marie! My wife is happy to drive there as she grew up close to Essen, and knows the roads, route, and likes the journey. But I would prefer to be with them for this.

But having a day to myself before they arrived allowed me to do all the things I wanted to do, such as speak to some of my favourite publishers, and demo some great games. I book hotels in Dussledorf which is 25 minutes drive from Essen as they are way cheaper, and the city is awesome! I highly recommend it. Parking at the Spiel is fine. There are some queues, but it's cheap at 6 euros a day, and there are lots of spaces across nine huge car parks I believe.

The Highlights

With over 1,200 new games at the show, you have to be choosy! I created a short list using the BGG preview prior to going. The official Spiel App allowed you to mark your top games, and then it showed you where they were on the map too. Very cool. It would be nice if they could sync the BGG list to the Spiel app though. On my shortlist, I had 147 games. I knew I wouldn't have time to see them all but there you go! The heart wants what the heart wants!

On the Thursday, I had back to back meetings with publishers to talk to them about their games, and so I found that with these diarised events, and a few stops for food and drink, I didn't have that much more time for other things on day one. Checking out Redwood from Sit Down! games was a highlight though. It's currently on kickstarter and it is stunning both in terms of looks and gameplay. I love how you move your characters and then use school math class like equipment to assess your current view. It has interesting scoring options too. One to watch for sure.

My Day two highlight was meeting the design team behind The Red Cathedral and Walkie Talkie by Devir. Walkie Talkie is an awesome little card game that I demo'd then bought at the show. I love how simple it is to play, but how addictive it can be. Meeting Isra and Shei from Llama Dice was a real thrill for me. They were so humble and seemed confused at how excited and emotional I was to see them!

In Walkie Talkie, you have six cards with either a single letter or a single colour on. There are two cards on the table. One showing a letter. One showing a colour. 30 seconds is available per player. You will all play simultaneously, trying to get rid of your cards by playing a letter on a letter or a colour on a colour. All you need to do when you play a card is say a word that matches the card you are playing. For example, if you play a W next to the colour blue you could say Water. If you played a Pink next to a letter F you could say Flamingo. You can say anything you like as long as it is not a colour and it makes sense. Get rid of your cards in the time limit to win. All the cards are double sided, with a letter on one side and a colour on the other. If someone says ROGER, then all players must flip their cards over. If someone says OVER, then all players must pass their card to the left. It's a bit like The Mind meets Boggle! Great fun!

The Games

I came home with 14 games and two expansions. I was able to play nine games over the two days I was at the show. And was able to get a demonstration of a dozen more. My pre-show big hitters were Tribes of the Wind, Revive, Sabika, War of the Ring, and Flowar. I came home with none of these and only played only one!

Tribes of the Wind was the one I played. It was good. If a friend owned it and asked to play with me, I would happily do so. And I feel over a few games I could come to enjoy it a lot. But it felt quite abstract and the theme of rebuilding civilisation in a post-apocalyptic world was what draw me in. Sadly, feeling none of that as I played really put me off, despite the game being solid. I liked how the actions you could do were largely dictated by the symbols on the back of the cards that your neighbour had. Hence the card holders below, allowing you to see what everyone has on the back of their cards. The multiple ways to play and score was fun. I liked how the game ended by building your fifth treehouse, which could happen sooner or later, depending on each players tactics. But it was good, not great. And had no real new mechanic or clever moment, so without the theme, I was ok to move on.

I left War of the Ring and Revive as I felt they were somewhat over priced at the show. 50 Euro for War of the Ring, and 80 for Revive. At least Revive has a lot in the box. War of the Ring is basically just some cards. But both felt over-inflated for the show based on hype, so I left them to more keen/rich buyers! But I am very excited to play them soon.

Sabika and Flowar I would have got had I more budget! But you cannot buy them all, and as I didn't have time to fully demo them, I have left them for another time. Hopefully soon. Sabika in particular looks amazing. But here is what I did get. Please note, a lot of these are review copies and were provided by the publishers for review purposes.

STG 2022 : A cool demo game showcasing all the cool developers from their area, kindly given to me by @zlaiannah.gameroom who is making @eyeofzamrock

Carcassonne Ukraine Map by @hig_games

Not featured in this picture as it was in the car somewhere at the time, after we played during the euro tunnel is Mada from @helvetiq

The Halls

I spent most of day one in Hall three. It was huge and had a lot of my favourite publishers located within it. Hall one and two was also very busy throughout and was full of amazing stuff. All three could be a full day, very easily. The Gallery connects to hall two, three, and four and five. Here, there were oversized games, children's entertainment including free mini buggies to ride, and lots of great food options. Hall Four and Five were a little smaller in comparison, but still huge! And full of great stuff, and hall six was a little quieter with some smaller independents, retailers, and peripherals. Everywhere you looked there was something awesome, and I honestly think you could spend over a week and still not see it all.

But you need to keep your eyes peeled because it can all blur into one. It is hard to separate individual people and games. Well, it is at least for me. But in one glorious corner of hall 2, you could find the Serbian Tabletop Guild. A group of designers and publishers from Serbia, joining forces to create something amazing. They even had a free promo game they were handing out that promoted each of their individual businesses whilst being a playable card game. How cool!

I was made aware of this by @zlaiannah.gameroom who I know from Instagram, who was promoting his upcoming kickstarter @eyeofzamrock It looked like Scythe on steroids, and I was instantly blown away! Just check out the scale and beauty of this! I cannot wait to see more.

The Hype

Some games get a lot of pre-show hype from the various outlets and channels that promote games. But Essen does not seem to have that many good deals anymore. Prices are normal costs. As such, the main reason to go for many is to get the hot games first. Others go for the spectacle, to see friends, network, or simply just play some games. But the queues for the hot games each day proves a large part of the show is about getting the new stuff first! Many games sold out, even at high prices, and it is great to see our wonderful hobby in boom time. I am sure many publishers, distributers, and designers suffered like most during lockdown, with distribution and parts being a real issue. But it seems we are nearly back to normal. Although there still seems to be a huge issue with importing games. So many publishers told me they had stacks of games stuck in customs, and were unable to demo or sell them at the show. This happens every year. Surely there is a better way?

One game I missed out on but hope to try soon is The Wolves. Just look at how pretty it looks! This is a territory building area-majority game with a modular board that has a Cascadia look to it, but plays very differently. You can turn over the terrain tiles where you want to have your turn, to change what terrain is visible. This of course affects the options available to you on your next turn. You need to upgrade your Wolf packs abilities and control across each terrain type to win the game. It is a lovely puzzle that looks great, and seems to play very smoothly.

Saying Goodbye

Leaving Spiel after two days last year, I was left feeling sad and frustrated I couldn't stay for longer. I want to play more games. See more people. Try more new things. But this year, after two days I was ready to go home. I covered a lot of ground. Around 15,000 steps each day. And had seen so many great things. Yes, I missed so much, but I recognise that I cannot play every game, and anything missed this time, is a surprise and delight for another day. Still, walking out those doors, tired and sweaty,for the final time on Friday evening felt sad. My Spiel was over for another year. I loved every minute of it. I cannot wait for next year. But I leave with lots of new games to try. New friends to talk games with. And a real sense of hope and joy for our wonderful hobby. I sometimes get too caught up in the politics of our industry, but if you remove all that, you are left with a lot of people trying to do one of two things. Give other people a good time, or have a good time themselves. I need to get back to the basics that drew me in to this wonderful hobby in the first place.

The Good, bad, and Ugly.

I loved 99% of the show. The stands are so impressive. The people at the stands are all so friendly and welcoming and you get great demos, mostly! There are some queues for some hot games, but there is always something to do, some game to play. Or some person to say hello to!

The few things I don't enjoy are the queues outside at the start of each day. Arrive 20 minutes late and you walk right in. But if you want to get in for the 10am start, you will gather outside in a big crowd, waiting to get through a narrow door, and have your ticket scanned by one of three people. Other doors are better, but this is the entrance to hall one where I always go in as it is closest to the car park I use. It's a bit stressful for me, and I feel they could have a more orderly queue, a lot more people scanning tickets, and maybe even start scanning in the queue before the doors open to avoid the rush.

The worst bit about the show though is the noise and hustle and bustle. There is no chill area, and it is all a bit intense. Sure, I chose to go for two days, 10am through to 7pm, I could break it up. But it would be nice if they had some area to chill in. You can get outside through a few doors, but there are no seating areas, and it's mainly full of people smoking. There must be hundreds of people like me that want to stay the full day but find it very hard to do so. I think Spiel needs to accommodate for this a bit more. Airecon does this best I feel, with lots of side rooms, chill areas, and break areas. Maybe the two organisers could chat!

If you want to check out my top tips for surviving Essen, I ran through that last year, you can check that here.

For now, let's do my Best of Awards.

Best game I played

This has to be Walkie Talkie. I absolutely loved it!

Best game I bought

I am not sure as I have not played them all yet, but Starship Captains has my eye!

Best Small box game

If I cannot pick Walkie Talk again, I will go with Kites. So frantic. So fun!

Best Party game

Again, I want to pick Walkie Talkie! So, I will!

Best Kickstarter coming soon

There were so many, but Eye of Zamrock pips it for me.

Best Stand

For shear scale and accessibility, it has to be Devir. They had great games. Nice tables. Great staff. A large but simple area to play with comfy seats, then a separate place to buy.

Well, enough of what I think, let's hear from some other visitors.

My highlights of Essen Spiel? I should probably say something about games. There were definitely games. Games as far as the eye can see. 18,000 steps a day worth of games. It was incredible and immense and overwhelming all at once. But today the thing that I find myself most craving is the sociality of it all. I’ve got a stack of shiny new games in front of me but I’m missing the people to play them with.

Last year I joined a queue to buy a game and found myself next to an insta friend who lives 3000 miles away from me. This year we passed each other walking opposite directions and it was pure joy seeing each other again.

On Friday I met another friend who lives in Serbia. There have been multiple times that I’ve written to them ‘I hope we get to meet in real life,’ whilst never really believing it. Now I hope to one day also meet his wife and I actually believe it’s possible.

You can go to dinner, notice the people next to you have games and before you’ve finished eating there are plans in place to meet the following year. You’re tired, you’ve walked the better half of a marathon over the weekend but still you find yourself in an apartment with new Dutch friends playing games until midnight.

I talked to a couple who told me they don’t sit down at the demo tables to play games because it’s too busy and noisy for them to concentrate on learning rules but I really think that’s the best thing about conventions: sitting down, playing games with multiple strangers from around the world and communicating fine because everyone there speaks a common language.

So go to Essen for the games but my highlight is the people. It’s an effort wandering around amongst 147 000 of them, but they’re all board-gamers and when you sit down and start playing you can’t help but feel that everyone there is your friend.

Spiel ’22, FINALLY, after Covid and a burnout in 2021 we're finally able to attend Spiel again. I have been preparing for months, reading through the Spiel preview on BoardgameGeek and watching YouTubers chatting about their most anticipated games for this year. Making a list, trying to make a shortlist, setting budget, making sure we would meet people, booking a hotel close enough and eventually packing our bags to drive eastward to Essen.

I kind of forgot how immense the Messe was and how busy it gets with all these crazy board gamers, but wow isn't that just amazing, all these people loving board games? At least you’re not the only weirdo hauling bags full of games around.

As we both needed some time to adjust we just started walking around a bit to ease into the Spiel vibe and immediately buying some high anticipated games, until I soon spotted some familiar faces.

We started looking for free tables to play some games and it surprised me we found those quick enough. Spiel is not quite the open gaming convention but this year I played more games than previous ones.

With over 800 games releasing (I have no clue how many exactly since a lot of games come out in different languages) the Messe is packed with booths and people and enough to see and experience for weeks. Sure we just went 2 days but I am sure I could’ve found new stuff everyday!

Could (or should?!) Spiel get even better by turning hall 7 into a huge open gaming area? Probably. Should they have more (veggie) food options and more space to properly sit down, looking at your fresh loot and chill a bit? Probably.

But man is this a fantastic place to be.

Of course I brought some games home as well. Many of my list and some we got to play and liked immediately.

I forgot to find three of the most anticipated games on my list (Marvel Remix, Cat in the Box and The Wolves) and by the time I realized I forgot about them, they were sold out.

Oh well, I’m sure I have a few games to play until these are delivered..

But THE highlight of this year was the absolutely amazing community of board gamers. Some I met prior to, some I met at Spiel. They truly made this year unforgettable. We had lovely dinners, played many games, and girl did we laugh a lot. I really DO think we are the friendliest people. And it just wouldn’t be the same without you. I am impatiently waiting to meet again. And already looking forward with the utmost anticipation to Spiel ’23.

John - @TrywinGames

Essen Spiel is a gigantic cornucopia of people, games and food. On one hand it’s “just” a huge games fair. On the other it’s a delightful blend of curiosity, wonder, shared experiences, meeting people and dodging speed-walking games fans!

Preparation really does help make the most of the, surprisingly, short time of the event. I even

printed the show guide beforehand so I could prepare. Got to love reading real print, right?!

So what was my first Essen Spiel experience like?

As a budding tabletop game designer my relationship with board games is probably a little

different to tabletop players. I met with publishers, manufacturers and distributors. Events like

this are great to work out who you would like to work with, and who you might not! I looked to

see how games and stands were presented and which tricks were used to excite potential


It’s also great to talk to fellow designers to share insights and experiences. Of particular note

was the team at Nomnivoregames (@nomnivoregames on Insta) where we chatted about font

selection and design to promote visual inclusivity. The chat started when I nerdily recognised a

dyslexic font they use in their game. It was fantastic to share the passion for being able to

welcome anyone to the gaming table.

I also met lots of brilliant Instagrammers too – many of whom I had never met in person before.

It was simply amazing to link up with people who had, up until this event, only been online

friends. We shared chats, photo’s, food and a few laughs too.

Of course, there are games at Essen too! I love how tabletop games have the ability to inspire

wonder and pleasure, and seeing the joy on so many faces was a marvellous sight.

I did manage to squeeze in a few demo’s; my highlights were Kites and Run Animals Run.

One inspires chaos while you try to keep kites in the air, the other challenges you to claim

enough resources for your chosen animal before the landscape becomes over-developed and

your critters die. Yes, there is an animal graveyard where you score negative points for each

animal that doesn’t make it. I guess the theme is a little morbid, but I really liked the

interpretation in the game of environmental challenges for (endangered) animals.

Is it possible to summarise Essen? It’s a tricky feat!

The sheer scale of Essen makes everything so much more rewarding, including the size of the

memories made. It’s one giant heap of amazing, and I’m so grateful to have shared it with so

many wonderful friends.

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