Well, I’ve been traveling home from Essen, and I’m looking forward to getting readjusted as best as I can to the time change. It’s usually amazing to see how screwed up my sleep-wake schedule can get from only six or seven nights in Europe! I’m working double time at work this week and next to make up for the time gone, so these recap posts are probably the last that you’ll hear from me until I can get some of the new games played.
This year, I managed to write a bit each night, so this wrap-up piece may be a bit shorter than usual… If you missed the daily pieces, you can find them here:
There were plenty of other Opinionated Gamers writing during the week as well – for the whole recap, go to our Essen 2011 page!
Also, I apologize in advance if I repeat anything from those posts… I’m trying to write the bulk of this on the flight home, and I can’t remember everything that I’ve already talked about!
[As an administrative note, for the next few weeks, some of the Opinionated Gamers will be posting “First Impression” pieces on the games that have interested them, but we will likely not be writing our usual collaborative reviews until after Thanskgiving weekend – this will allow many of the OG writers to make it to conventions and/or play games over Thanksgiving weekend. Furthermore, as not all of us will get a chance to play the newest games so soon, it will be nice to take retrospective looks at these games in early Spring when more of us will have had a chance to play the games or perhaps have had a chance to refine our opinion of games after multiple plays. Also, by the end of this week, the blog will try to move back to its usual once-a-day posting format that seems to have worked well for the rest of the year…]
So, my overall impression of the fair is similar to last year. Thus far, there seem to be an abundance of good or above-average games, though nothing yet stands out as an immediate “All-time Top 10” sort of game. Of course, I make this claim having only played seven or eight Essen games during the week (and about a dozen or so of the new releases prior to leaving)… Many of the most talked about games at the show are in my luggage, but I haven’t had a chance to play them yet! So, I’m basing a lot of my current opinion on what some of my trusted friends have told me about the games.
Looking through my game collection before I left, I was surprised by just how many Essen 2010 games were still found on the shelves – especially with me actively pruning the collection and the basement flood taking a few more as well. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a similar number of games vying for shelf space from this year’s crop as there are many games which intrigue me right now. I have two gaming weekends scheduled for November, so those times should give me a good opportunity to get a decent portion of the new games played. Also, there are a number of games that look to play well with the kids, so I might be enlisting the family to help out as well.
Now let’s get back to describing the fair. The attendance patterns seemed a little different than usual this year. The Thursday seemed busier than usual. At first, I thought that this might be due in part to the prohibition of game sales on Wednesday, but after I thought about it, there really aren’t too many people there on Wednesday that aren’t Press or somehow working the show already. I’m thinking that there were just more people there on Thursday than in years past.
The halls on Friday were less congested. I had plenty of opportunity to wander around and chat up some of the booth employees, and most of them told me that they also felt that numbers were down on Friday as compared to the day before, and their sales also were slower in comparison. I had expected Friday to be slow as this year the school holiday did not coincide with the dates of SPIEL.
Saturday, however, was its usual crowded self, with many people packing the walkways and sitting areas. That being said, it did not feel as crowded as a “usual” Saturday as there was still generally room to move and it was not out of the ordinary to find an open table at some of the stands to test games.
Most of the usual stands were in their usual spaces, but with the departure of the Italians in Hall 12, there was a bit of reorganization. The Pegasus booth grew a bit larger into the corner, and the French Quarter also took up some of the slack – Stronghold games moved into part of the space as well. As I mentioned earlier this week, there is probably a more complete story behind the competing Merchants of Venus plans. The guys at Stronghold believe they have the rights to the reprint, though clearly so does Fantasy Flight as they’ve apparently been working on their game for some time now.
There were also some changes to Hall 10/11 – notably that Rio Grande Games no longer had any demo space, and they merged into the BoardGameGeek area. Jay was still there having his meetings, and he seemed happy with the new arrangements. It seemed like there were always people there looking at and buying the games. With that stand being located right at the exit to Hall 5, there was always a bottleneck of people as that area is always congested, even more so with people stopping to rank games, watch the interviews being done, and chat with everyone else there! Winning Moves was also not to be found, and their usual space was taken up by Goliath. The Queen Games area actually seemed larger also, with the discount stand now being located across the walkway from the main demo area. It certainly appears that the production disaster of 2010 did not end up causing the financial ruin of the company.
Hall 5 – More Queen! Like last year, there was a large area of demo tables for Queen as you walked into Hall 5 from Hall 10. When you add all of their square footage together, it certainly seemed to me that Queen had the largest convention footprint. Mattel also seemed larger too. According to my brother, who works for Mattel USA, the booth was busier than it had been in the past as well. The other big change here was the second French-language shared booth which was near the Hall 4 entrance – given the number of publishers and different games on offer here, this space always seemed to be congested.
Hall 4 – Always in flux. The Korean Pavillion now on the left as you walk down the walkway from the steps. It was much bigger in square footage than last year, and it looked to have more companies. There were actually a few empty booths scattered around in this area. (Though not enough area to accommodate all the of the booths found in Hall 7). There was a Polish area here too – Rebel/Portal shared space with Kuznia Gier around the way. The Spaniards also shared space (Homoludicus / Gen X).
Galeria – I only had a quick walkthrough here. Yummy smelling donut stand, a place to try rollerblading, ball-filled “jumpy houses,” bungee trampolines, etc. Lots of kids were having fun here – looked like a nice place to stop for a bit and let the kids blow off some steam before heading back into the fair to look at more games. However, as there weren’t really any new games to look at here, my single pass through was all I got this year.
Hall 7 – this was the overflow area that was newly opened for this year’s SPIEL. The hall itself runs the whole length of Halls 6 and 4, but for some reason you could only enter it from a corner in Hall 4. There were maybe 15-20 booths back there, and most of them were new to the show. When I had originally heard that Hall 7 was opening, I thought that this would mean more like 50-100 new booths, but as it turns out, they used only about one quarter of the space of the Hall. Though I didn’t spend much time back there, I’m not sure how much traffic the area received – the crowds definitely seemed lighter when I did walk through. I really don’t know how many people found their way back that far as it is pretty much as far away as you can get from the “main” entrance as possible. Hopefully the stands back there did OK.
Hall 6 – to be honest, I pretty much only walked thru this area to get between Halls 5, 4 and 9. I couldn’t really tell you if anything had changed or not. The few game companies (Fantasy Flight, Stratelibri, Pegasus, etc.) that normally exhibit in this hall didn’t have any new games that came across my radar, and as such, I didn’t visit them this year.
Hall 9 – this Hall felt the least changed. The crowds at Lookout, Fragor, and Z-man were always there. The flow of new releases at Z-man is as strong as ever. It remains to be seen if the quantity of games will stay the same with Filosofia’s plans, but I’m certain that the quality of games will remain high as Zev’s (and Sophie’s) eye for good games remains unchanged. The Heidelberger area was at least as big as last year, but filled with German language versions of games that I could get elsewhere in English. Umm, I think I might have mentioned though there were some maids at the Cardhaus booth who were new. According to Eric, who runs Cardhaus, there was a lot of interest in the translated versions (into English) of Tanto Cuore. Many requests were apparently also made for Barbarossa.
That pretty much completes a circular tour of the halls as I might have walked them. The one thing that is missing from the fair, which is found at most American fairs is a stand to ship stuff from! It would be so nice if there were a DHL or UPS stand at the fair (or just outside)! I know that I am not the only one who needed or wanted to ship things away from the fair (even some of the German citizens that I ran into wished that they could send stuff domestically), and I think having a simple way to do this would be a way to promote more sales. I also wonder if someone would be able to make a profit renting out an exhibitor space and then charging money to simply store people’s purchases during the day while they walked around the fair. I know that I am certainly guilty of taking out a few people with my IKEA bag(s), and the filled blue and yellow bag was a badge of honor toted around by many a SPIEL-goer this year.
Enough about the convention architecture, now back to the games. With so many games on offer, it’s hard – if not impossible – to see everything. In fact, if you start to take in full demos of games, you might be able to get in about 2-4 per hour once you factor in all the time it takes to walk between booths, wait for a space to open up when you get to the booth, etc. If you are lucky enough to be at a stand with multiple games that you’re interested in, you might be able to get an extra one or two in… However, at many stands now, the games are set up on specific table (like at Queen), so that if you want to learn a second game at their stand, you have to find a different table which is dedicated to that game to come open. I think this is a wonderful idea on the part of the exhibitors as it helps give more people a chance to see games as you can’t just camp out at a single table and then spend the whole day seeing everything at the booth.
So, I’d say that if I were getting full demos of each game, I’d maybe see 15-20 per day at most… And that’s with the benefit of getting in a bit early with my press credentials and staying to the end of the day. The number of games that I can see per hour further reduces if I’d actually play them! Therefore, I have to rely a lot on some groundwork done before the show to help maximize my time there. Writing up the Essen preview pieces helped a lot as did downloading and reading lots of rules about the new games. I think that my iPad had nearly 85 sets of rules downloaded onto it before I left for Europe this year.
Knowing as much as I can about the games before the fair helps me to come up with a plan on attacking the list of over 700 games on display at the fair! The first thing I do is make my own list… This year, that list was about 140 different titles… placed into four tiers this year based on my interest level going into the show. Paradoxically, the games that I am most interested in prior to fair get the littlest attention while I’m actually in Essen – this year, that list would include: Trajan, Walnut Grove, Tournay, MIL (1049), Last Will, Dynamite Nurse Returns!, Funkenschlag: First Sparks, Shitenno, etc. Because I already know that I am very interested in those games, I usually don’t need any more info at the stand – I just need to go and pick up a copy of the game to bring home!
The games that I’m not so sure about (at least levels 2 and 3) – I will likely take in a longer demo or ask around to see what others think of it. There are about 20-30 people that I see each year at Essen whose game likes/dislikes I am very familiar with. Many thanks to other Opinionated Gamers including Patrick Korner, Valerie Putman, Brian Yu, Ted Alspach, Jeffrey Allers, Doug Garrett, and Liga for giving me their takes on the games. Additionally, the opinions of the Counter guys, Stuart Dagger and Alan How, was very helpful this year in weeding through the very long list of games, as was the typically curmudgeonly advice from Mr. Dewsbery. Finally, my colleagues at BGG including Aldie, Doug and Shelly, Beth and Linc gave me good tips on some of the games which were demonstrated at the stand that I might have otherwise missed! Early in the show, stopping and chatting with them about what they think about the games really helps me decide what to look at next. The other guide that I have are the two ranking systems: BGG GeekBuzz and the Fairplay poll (more about these tomorrow)…
The games in the fourth interest level are the sorts of things that are relegated to the end of each day or maybe even to Saturday. The issue here is that if they wait until Saturday, there might not be any luggage space left for them even if I turn out to be interested! This year, my bags were pretty much full at about Friday 4pm…
Another thing that gets put on the backburner to a degree are the domestic (American) companies – such as Gryphon/FRED, RGG, Z-man, Stronghold, Wattalspoag, Wizkids, Mayfair, etc. This is in no way saying that I’m not interested in their games… but with all the limitations on airline baggage (as well as the escalating fees), games that I can get back home through non-international, non-airmail methods really need to wait until I can simply order them from home. I definitely stop by all of their booths and check out the new games and learn as much as I can about the newest games – but rarely do I take their wares home from Essen. (Also, many of the games that are “new” to Essen have already been exhibited at home at GenCon or Origins, so they’re not new to me…) When I do learn about new domestic games at SPIEL, I often check online and make orders while I’m still in Essen!
Also, I pretty much had to decide not to spend too much time on games that weren’t quite ready for the show. I’m actually intrigued by both The Village from eggertspiele as well as Siberia from dlp games, but I actually was so busy looking at other games (trying to decide if I was going to try/buy them or not), that I never was able to take in a full demo of those games not ready. I have glanced at the rules to both, and once the dust settles from the huge pile of games from Essen, I’ll be ready to consider those games.
OK – time to take a break. The flight home is almost over and now it’s time to say hi to the wife and kids and rest for a long while! I’ll write more about the games in the next installation, hopefully later this week – as well as cataloging what came home with me! Though with my return to my “real” job, we’ll have to see how much time there is this week for writing!