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Essen Spiel 2023 Retrospective

In 2021 I was excited about Excavation Earth, Riverside, and Golem. You can read about that here. Some useful tips for the show too if you ever plan to go and want some advice.

In 2022 it was all about Walkie Talkie as I fell hard for the designers behind The Red Cathedral. Again, its here if you want it.

This year, it was different. I planed going very late. So, I did not book many meetings with publishers which meant I was free to do what I wanted more of the time, with no obligations, and it was lovely. I played what I want, and came home with what I want. It cost a lot more! But was better. I was very keen on getting some games still, I had still done my research, here was my hit list pre-show. I got them all apart from Nokous Dice which sold out every day, Planta Nubo which a friend bought instead and I thought I could play theirs! On The Moon was demo only, Cascadia Landmarks was overpriced in my opinion, Sea Dragons sold out and Redwood was on a stand I sadly did not get too in my two days. The rest are sat next to me right now, plus a few more.

Onto the awards!

Best game I played

Nekojima, Ito, and That's not a Hat all take a three way tie for top spot this year. Three small, party games. "Where are the big euros Jim?!"

Essen Spiel 2023 Retrospective

Best game I bought

I still have a lot to play, but Nekojima, Ito, and That's not a Hat will take a lot of beating. I bought all three after playing at the fair, well, ITO I didn't play but knew what it did, and loved them all instantly. I may come back here later and re-address this once all purchased games are played. Nucleum is looking at me right now with a cheeky grin on its face!

Best small box game

I still have not played it yet but I am confident this will be The White Castle which I am so excited about playing soon!

Essen Spiel 2023 Retrospective

Best Party game

Nekojima is more of a dexterity games so I will exclude that. So it is between Ito and That's not a Hat and I will have to go with another tie. But if you really forced me to pick on, I would hide one inside the other, they are tiny, and pretend I had picked one but in truth, they cannot be separated for me. Both great fun!

Essen Spiel 2023 Retrospective

Best Kickstarter coming soon

There was so many but the one that really caught my eye was Galactic Cruise coming to Kickstarter next spring from Dranda games. It looks epic!

Best Kickstarter out now

This has to be Kavango from first time designers Matt and Zara, who are the nicest people and have made an incredible game. Well worth checking out.

Essen Spiel 2023 Retrospective

Best Kickstarter in fulfilment

Oh my, I am so excited for Mythwind. I got to meet one of the designers there and this game just seems more and more incredible every time I think about it. Open world gaming, potentially, at its finest. We will see.

Essen Spiel 2023 Retrospective

Best Stand

This year I am giving that to Board & Dice. A nice big stand with lots of staff on hand. Loads of tables. A lot of people were dressed up in fancy dress to honour their big release of the show Nucleum, and the whole area looked amazing. I had a fantastic demo of their 2024 release Windmill Valley there too with a great teach. It looks amazing fun.

My only disappointment of the show was not being able to do it all! Standard. And not being able to get a few games I wanted as they sold out. I was there 10:20am on day one, 20 minutes after opening, and Nokosu Dice was gone for the day. I could have gone in early with my press pass but I feel that is not fair on everyone else. Exhibitors get to buy early which I am sort of ok with, they cannot do it during the rest of the day as they are working. The next day, a similar thing happened, although I got there a little later. This game was out in 2016. A re-print and some hype after some big names talked about it have given this game it's five minutes and sadly it seems the publisher could not respond in time, and print enough copies. I hope when it comes back to print and is available to buy, people are still keen. I for one will be. But I fear the hype will fade and we will all move onto the new shiny thing. All I have played of this game is one round (of three), but I loved it and I think it deserves the hype. It is so clever with just a few simple twists on the usual trick-taking experience, the game feels so fresh and new.

So, what did everyone else think? Let's see as we hear from some of my favourite people in the gaming world who are here to share their experiences with you so you can get a fully rounded opinion of the Spiel.

Lee from Gamingoverboard

This was my first time at Essen, having only been to a handful of cons before (UKGE twice and Airecon once), so I was basically expecting it to be like UKGE on steroids. Which it both was and wasn’t.

The venue is enormous, and packed to the rafters with exhibitors, games, demos, games, dice, games, accessories, and a few more games for good measure. If you have a wish list, this is the place to make all of those wishes come true – I unexpectedly managed to pick up some games, promos and expansions that are either impossible or prohibitively expensive to get in the UK. Of course, Essen is also packed with people, so if you’re not a fan of crowds this is not going to be your vibe (although perhaps the relatively quieter Thursday or Sunday would work better for you). That said, the aisles are very wide and the exhibitors well spaced out so, a few bottlenecks aside, I felt far less crushed than I did at UKGE, and there are a couple of empty halls/outdoor spaces if you need to step out and take a breather.

On the downside, there is very little gaming taking place. I was prepared for this in theory, but the significance of its absence didn’t hit home until I was actually there. My favourite bit about cons is sitting down and playing games with friends I don’t usually get to see. Not only is there ZERO open gaming in Essen (hell, you’d be incredibly lucky just to sit down full stop) but it’s also very hard to demo any games. Every exhibitor has a handful of demo tables, but obviously not enough to satisfy the enormous demand. If there’s a hot game or big developer you want to try out, you’re gonna have to loiter for a very long time or get very lucky with timings (every time I went to the Garphill stand it was just as a new teach was starting, and let’s not forget the kind gentlemen who stole the Art Society table we’d been waiting for longer than them). Due to this, my favourite day of the con was the day we didn’t actually go to the con and stayed in the Airbnb gaming all day. Which does beg the question if there’s any point in me going again in the future, when I can get my fix much closer to home instead…

Mubeen from mubeen_saddique

This year, as I made my way to Essen, I wasn’t sure what to feel. There didn’t appear to be a

standout game to look out for, there were predictions of impending chaos due to the new hall plans, and I’d been told I’d be demo’ing one of the most anticipated games of the fair, Galactic Cruise. But as the doors opened, the halls filled and the humdrum of people enjoying their hobby grew into a hubbub, the nausea I was feeling dissipated, and slowly but surely, it was replaced by pure joy.

My personal highlight was the chance, once again, to meet with friends I usually only get to see a few times a year, to catch up and have a laugh interspersed with some gaming – double the fun when they come over to watch me demo! I also enjoy seeing people from around the world come to the booth and take a seat ready to get into the demo – I had folks from Australia, America, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK partake in games, and it’s great to see how folks from different cultures react over their love of their shared hobby.

As an exhibitor, I was lucky enough to buy games at Essen in the hour before the doors open to the public, but when there are few copies of a game, the public doesn’t stand a chance at getting a copy, as they’ll all sell out. In my opinion, publishers need to reserve some stock exclusively for sale to the public (perhaps a gradual release of stock during the day?).

It's also very hard to get a demo of a game if you walk the halls alone. The app this year was superb – perhaps it’s worth adding a “find a person to demo with” feature to team up with others during the convention. I took great pleasure in encouraging individuals or groups of two to join the Galactic Cruise demo, as it was a great way to ensure everybody who was interested could be included, and I hope they appreciated it too.

So, another Essen is in the books, and with plenty of new games, now it’s time to nurse my sore throat, eat something healthy again and remedy the sleep deprivation!

Erlijne from Mostly Solo

There was one thing I knew for sure this year: I needed all the Saasi & Saashi games. It was my second time visiting Spiel and last year Saashi & Saashi did not have a stand. Despite their fantastic artwork and fun games, they're not the most accessible brand in Europe. That meant: spending my first 45 minutes at the fair anxiously awaiting the moment I could ask for a copy of Come Sail Away and Newsboys.

Those two games were the start of a very artwork centred haul: Jokkmokk has cool vintage graphics, Islet is as beautiful looking as its predecessor Coral, both Bonsai and The White Castle are right up my aesthetically pleasing Japan obsessed alley, and Portals has amazing box art and great components. And that's just the haul part, because boy did I see pretty games I wanted to try! Satori (cure monk meeples), Galactic Cruise (amazing box art) and of course Evenfall, which has amazing art, even better player boards and — as it turns out — fantastic gameplay. (For those of you wondering: Yes, all of the aforementioned games come with a solo mode.)

But maybe the best part? Sitting down with friends after two days of walking the fair, playing games for a whole day and laughing until we cried. Despite all the money I spent on fantastic games, the 9 euro party game I did not buy will forever have the most impact of Spiel 2023.

Marie from Burtons Boards

This was my third year attending Essen Spiel and I’ve pretty much been looking forward to it since the end of the last one.

I know exactly what to expect now and so this year felt more relaxed right from the start. Also turning up late and missing all the queues to get in is my new favourite thing! There was only one game I really cared about buying and after that it felt nice to just leisurely wander the halls, ticking off games I was interested in checking out.

I’ve seen a few people complaining about never getting a space to demo games and that may be true for all the big hype games but whenever we decided our legs ached and we wanted to sit, we would find ourselves a table. You just can’t be too picky.

It felt a little different this year. Not being so concerned about buying everything on my list meant we moved through the halls at a slower pace and so there was a lot that I didn’t end up seeing but that also meant that the crowds and the queues didn’t bother me. It was a difference that I liked and I look forward to this new, less obsessed me attending again next year!

But what was the same was the joy of seeing friends. There are some people that I completely count as friends even though we see each other once a year and talk for 3 minutes. And there are others who are now firmly my Essen family. We will live and game together for 4 days every October from now on.

This year we stayed in apartments, rather than hotel rooms, which meant we could game together in the evenings. This more than made up for the lack of open gaming at the convention. We also stayed an extra night so that we could have a full day of playing all our exciting new games together and it was perfect.

2 days of Spiel is always enough for me but I will never have enough of playing games with friends until 2am and laughing so much you can hardly breathe and making memories that make you smile when you think back on them. So tell me, which do you find more beautiful? A crow or cheesecake?

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