Essen Mule Train Report #3

Welcome to the second-last installment of the mule train series! This time around, I’ll cover off the rest of the story – that is, getting the games home and such. When last we spoke, I had just discarded 45 pounds of cardboard excess and was faced with a veritable mountain of games to try and get home. Well, two mountains. My own games needed to get shipped home, while those for the convention were going to ride first class, so to speak, in my luggage.

First off, my own games. After despruing and nesting for volume compression purposes, I was left with about 100 pounds of games (about 45 kg for my European readers). These went into three boxes – I managed to scrounge around the fair and find some solid overseas shipping boxes which was good. Funny thing – the boxes that come from China are meant for container shipment and are nice and thick and sturdy. The European boxes, in contrast, are meant mostly for truck shipping and tend to be much thinner-walled and flimsy; not suitable for air shipment at all. So I ended up with 3 boxes that had once held Qwirkle and would now carry my games home for me.

Finding a DHL drop point that is a) open on Saturdays and b) accepts international shipments is not easy. Europe is a little different than North America in that weekends really are meant for resting – I think there was a single DHL point open past noon in the entire city, and thankfully it was about 5 minutes from the Messe. Of course, getting the boxes there is the first step, right? Thanks to Ted I had wheels (a nice big Citroen van), and thanks to a quick jaunt out into the neighbourhood around the apartments, I had packing tape and a marker. Well, a red marker. Apparently black sharpies are hard to find or something…

Anyways. Much taping and marking later, I had three sturdy boxes ready for shipment. Into the van with them and off we go. Good thing I know how to drive standard. Finding the drop point was easy. Finding parking was difficult. After the first pass I turned around and went for a second. Still no parking. Okay, we’ll turn right and turn around and… whoops. These are all one-way streets. Gah. Good thing I have a solid sense of direction, and eventually I came around for a third pass. This time I had had enough and just parked on the sidewalk like everyone else does in Europe.

Post offices are funny things in Germany. Most of them aren’t actually post offices per se – they are convenience stores, tobacco shops and other stores that happen to have postal drops in them. The actual DHL (a wholly owned shipping subsidiary of the German mail system, btw, which is why anything that ever gets shipped from Germany appears to go DHL) part of this particular convenience store was about 2 feet of counter space and some room to store parcels behind it – basically just enough room for a scale, a printer and a monitor. Long story short, my boxes ended up behind the counter safely labeled – now I just have to cross my fingers that they don’t get a) ruined in transit, b) lost in transit, c) refused at the border for customs purposes or d) seized by customs and detonated by those whole little bomb-sniffing robots you see in the movies. The fact that my tracking numbers don’t seem to work on the DHL website is only marginally upsetting to me at this point; I’m sure it will be more so if the boxes don’t show up at my doorstep in a few weeks.

Okay, back to the other half of the packing puzzle. How to get what appears to be 5 suitcases worth of boxes into only 3? The answer, as alluded to above, is nesting. Nesting is a wonderful thing, and allowed me to make such discoveries as: Black Secret fits perfectly into Kingdom Builder. Tournay fits perfectly into Cyclades: Hades. Giganto boxes like those from Eclipse and Quebec are great for stuffing full of at least one ‘standard’ game plus a whole pile more. On and on it went, with each new nest increasing my certainty that I would be able to pull it off. The first duffel was full and ready for weighing (oh, by the way, don’t EVER become a game mule if you don’t have a luggage scale along!). Okay, how heavy is it…

80 lbs.


And so begins the second phase of nesting: Weight reduction. Those boards come out, that box is too heavy and needs to be switched with that one, which is a bit thinner so another box needs to come out too and then three new ones get added back in, and let’s try that again and see where we are… 68 lbs. Success! (I should point out that there was no chance in hell of this stuff making it back in 50 lb bags, so excess weight fees were assumed to be a must-have right from the beginning.)

The second duffel bag went a little smoother than the first as I learned how to be a little more conservative weight wise, and eventually all three bags, one carry-on and one other carry-on were full. And one duty-free bag. That’s another mule trick: Buy something small and cheap on your way in to the country mostly to get the duty-free bag, which you can then fill up with game stuff on the way back out again since no airline will ever get mad at you for having bought something at at the duty-free shop. In my case, it was the oddly shaped boxes for Casus Belli and Kairn that ended up riding duty-free. Too bad neither of them are playable solo, since just about everything else is completely inaccessible!

And so, here I sit in the Amsterdam airport, waiting for my flight home to Vancouver to be called. The mule train is just about complete – all I need is to get home and repatriate all the bits to their boxes and then ferry the games down to Seattle next weekend. Would I do this again? Sure, why not? I have a talent for logistics and the chance to get to Essen when it would otherwise be an impossibility is hard to ignore. Then again, my back has been bugging me on and off, and there was little chance to actually play anything at the fair, so I did have to give up a few things. But on the whole, the chance to meet up with friends both American and European, soak up the Spiel atmosphere and satisfy my shopping urges on someone else’s dime made the trip a success in my books. Provided KLM doesn’t decide to play the pancake game with the bags, of course. The final coda to this epic will have to wait until I’m well and truly home – at which point I’ll see about taking some pre and post unpacking pictures as well.

Until next time!


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1 Response to Essen Mule Train Report #3

  1. Tom Rosen says:

    I’m not sure what it says about me but I really like these articles all about the logistics of bringing games back from Essen. Seems like quite an operation! I’d really like to see those pre and post unpacking photos.

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