The OG goes to Essen – Week 5 & 6

Jonathan Franklin

Flight (Seattle-Dusseldorf via Frankfurt) is set.

Hotel (Movenpick) is set.

I don’t do much in advance on packing, as shirt, pants, baggies, sharpies, and the like are all pretty grabbable,  I have not gotten a fancy luggage scale, but will use a friend’s this year.

Having been the past few years, I am into making The List.  I have a similar approach to Dale, but will have the list sorted by hall, aisle, and booth.  I’m getting there on frequent flier miles and the hotel is not cheap, so I won’t be buying hundreds of games.  At the same time, I love reviewing games by lesser known designers and publishers.  Games like Prosperity, Relic Runners, and anything by Rosenberg/Feld/Bauza will get plenty of press as it is.  Last year, I was fortunate to find lots of smaller games, from Coup and Japon Brand’s Love Letter to Wild Fun West and Taschkent.  I particularly enjoy reviewing games that people might not otherwise find out about.  

Several trends are appearing based on my List, notably lots of microgames/ small sub-20 minute games are listed.  Not just Haba, but releases from large and small publishers.  Great for fitting in luggage and relatively inexpensive, but I don’t think I’ll be getting more than one or two.  I have no idea which ones – I’ll probably leave that to word of mouth.

Along with microgames are lots of double-think/psychology games.  Resistance, Werewolf, Mafia, etc. are spawning all sorts of new variations.  

I’m not a dexterity/action gamer.  I appreciate those games, but don’t seek them out.  Some of the hottest games, like Steam Park and Rampage, involve both strategy and speed and/or physicality.  Of course, the both look fantastic, so on second thought, . . .

One challenge every year is that I get these big meaty 2 hour + games that then get played four times and then gather dust.  Last year, I fell for Ruhrschifffahrt, Great Zimbabwe, and Terra Mystica.  I don’t regret getting them, but Ginkgopolis and Snowdonia are closer to my sweet spot.  There are lots of good looking longer games this year, so we’ll see if I can resist the siren songs of Madeira, Caverna, Romolo o Remo?, Craftsmen, Kohle et Kolonie, Lewis & Clark, Nations, etc.  I know I’ll get a few.

Lots of games that will be released in the US.  This is always tricky.  Get a game at Essen for full price paying cash in Euro, or wait to come home and maybe it arrives in 3 weeks or maybe one year.  The question for me used to be whether it was getting a US release, but this year, the question is who will be carrying it in the US.  If it is likely to be a timely release and in sufficient quantities, I’ll hold off and get it at home, saving money and valuable luggage space.

Another bit of excitement for this year will be that I have a game coming out at Essen from R&R games, Plunder.  Designer Diary and more to come, but for now, I can say that Plunder’s release is a big part of why I chose to go to Essen this year.  If you read this far, thanks and please come say hi in the halls.

Dale Yu

Busy writing up these rules previews – a lot of rule-sets came in this week.  The first games should arrive in the coming week, so soon I’ll be able to actually talk about games that I’ve played, not that I’ve read about!  Thanks in advance to R&R games, Flatlined Games and Mercury Games…

My list is slowly taking form.  The first full pass thru the BGG Essen geeklist is done, and I have about 100 games that have some sort of status level.  Now… as I have time, I go back thru my own list and do individual research on the games.  I have 80+ rulesets downloaded, though some are only in German, and as I have time, I will peruse those as well to better classify the games on my chart.  I’d guess that I have about 15 rulesets read so far, I get to 2-3 per day while waiting for the kids in soccer carpool, etc.  My iPad is always around, so it’s easy to just whip it out and read 1-2 rules as time permits.

This week, I’m hoping to set up a roundtable with some of the other OG writers.  It looks like we’re going to be busy at Essen.  At least 4 of us have games that will debut at the fair (and I have my hand in development of at least one…), so we’ll get together soon to talk about those!

A few Essen preview pieces are already up – and more to come.  Already arrived, but not yet written:

  • Capitals and Infamy from Mercury Games
  • Relic Runners from Days of Wonder
  • Francis Drake and Triassic Terror from Eagle

Packing wise, I’m just now starting to gather my materials… My wife makes fun of me every year, but I honestly start looking for stuff about now as it often takes me 4-5 weeks to get everything in one place.  I just start making a stack in the corner of our guest bedroom in an empty suitcase.  The thing is, I usually only spend 2-3 minutes at a time when I do this… something will just pop in my head like “Hey, you should remember to bring the luggage scale”.  So then, I go look for that thing and then put it in the suitcase.

I actually have a list of the things I want to bring to Essen, i.e. the list of things that I brought last year… But I haven’t found it yet.  So for the time being, I’ll keep doing this hodge-podge sort of pack until about a week to go when I get more serious about finding stuff.

I also start getting the suitcase out to see how much room I have for the way over… As I’m going to be packing light clothes-wise, I generally have space to bring stuff over to Europe.  I have a few friends who usually ask me to transport over some stuff for them, and I don’t mind as I’m bringing an otherwise empty bag over to Essen.  Well, not completely empty, there will be a few empty boxes (in case I need to ship stuff home) as well as a rolled up duffel bag which will serve as my second piece of luggage for the trip home.  It doesn’t make sense to pay for it on the way there when it will be empty though!

On the way back though, everything will be completely full and as close to 50.0 lbs as possible.  This is why I’m happy to bring stuff TO Europe for people but have a no tolerance policy for bringing stuff back.  With the new limits on weight as well as the exorbitant cost for extra bags or overweight bags, I do not even have enough room for my stuff.  Thus, I have a standing policy of not taking any requests to bring stuff back.  I know that this has ruffled a few feathers of some friends (even some OG writers), but when it comes down to it, bringing back even a small box (when you include the time of tracking it down, packing it, nesting it) can be more work than it’s worth – especially when I’m running out of time to get my own stuff done.  Also, with the possible cost of 75EUR for exceeding the weight limit, I’m likely to jettison someone else’s stuff to make the weight limit.  Finally, there is a lot of cost (both monetary and time) to go to Essen.  Until someone has gone to Essen and brought me back stuff (to understand what sort of hardship it is), the request is automatically denied.

That being said, there are a few people I do owe favors to, and I will bring stuff back for them… They know who they are, and when they ask, I accept the request.  The main qualifier for this is that they have, in fact, brought me stuff home in the past, and I will re-pay that favor.  However, for everyone else, I’d just recommend ordering from, milan spiele or other german retailer of choice who will mail to the US OR JUST COME TO ESSEN YOURSELF IF YOU WANT TO GET THE ESSEN-ONLY PROMOS.

Yes, it sounds draconian. But that’s life.

(Added 10/1/13, 12 noon) Actually, I just checked with Delta. It’s even worse.  The fee for an extra bag is now $285/200 EUR… The fee for extra weight is $100 to raise the limit on a single bag from 50lbs to 70lbs.  Yikes.  Pretty much confirms the above statement that there is no room for stuff that isn’t mine…

Ben McJunkin

This October, I will take my first-ever trip to Essen.  I’ve been meaning to contribute to the weekly updates, but I have been unable to until now.  However, I expect this post will be my first in a series of posts chronicling that trip.  Over the next several weeks, I would like us to develop something a reciprocal relationship.  I intend to give you a look into the thoughts and considerations of an Essen first-timer, and I hope to solicit from you all ideas and suggestions about how to improve my experience.

Since I first started in this hobby, I knew that, at some point in my life, I would attend the Spiel fair in Essen (Internationale Spieltage SPIEL, for the particularly picky).  The question was when.  Job and money considerations made this year a no-brainer for me, but, in terms of games, not all years are created equal.  Unfortunately, if you do have some discretion, the decision whether to attend a given year’s fair must usually be made well in advance of the release of necessary information about the quality of games that will be shown there.

The first Essen I actually tracked closely was in 2009.  That was my first full year as a “board gamer” (as opposed to a guy who occasionally played board games).  At the time, I was a fully committed member of the Cult of the New, and for all the wrong reasons: I was convinced that the most recent games could only improve upon the innovations of the past.  Why bother with Caylus (at the time, a staple of BGG’s Top 10), when Xavier Georges was set to release Carson City, which obviously improved upon Caylus by adding dice? (I am still ashamed to admit that I indeed had this thought.)  When Vasco da Gama first hit my table, I proclaimed it the next Puerto Rico.  Perhaps it is mere sentimentality, but a number of titles from that year still adorn my gaming shelf – Hansa Teutonica, God’s Playground, At the Gates of Loyang, Shipyard, and Peloponnes.

In comparison to the previous year, 2010 proved to be a letdown.  GMT released Dominant Species in September, which, for me, completely overshadowed the best games from the Essen fair.  The buzz-worthy games released at Essen all flopped for me in one way or another—7 Wonders proved too light, Merkator too dry, London too nice and Luna too Feld.  The two games that ultimately resonated for me were under my radar until well after the fair, those being Key Market and Troyes (and even they took a while for me to begin to really appreciate).

By the time 2011 rolled around, I was actively seeking out the under-the-radar gems.  I was aided by the fact that the most popular games released that year were all thematically and mechanically unappealing to me.  These were games like Eclipse, Mage Knight, Mansions of Madness, and Risk Legacy.  The few true Euros by established designers were not to my taste (my thoughts on Ora et Labora are fairly well known; Trajan and Castles of Burgundy were two other games receiving considerable hype).  Unfortunately, most under-the-radar games are under the radar for a reason.  2011 was the year I forced myself to trudge through the rules to such luminary games as Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas and MIL (1049) in the hopes of finding a hit.  Vanuatu was the one fleeting high point from that year, and I was beginning to believe that maybe I was just too jaded about games to recapture the magic of 2009.

Essen 2012, however, changed my tune.  Last year’s fair produced some of my very favorite games, starting of course with the excellent Terra Mystica, which has become my most-played game of all time in under a year.  But I also quite enjoyed Archipelago, The Great Zimbabwe, CO2, Ginkgopolis, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, The Palaces of Carrara, Robinson Crusoe, and Keyflower, to name just a few.  This was unquestionably the best haul I’ve seen for as long as I’ve been keeping track.

Given the cyclical nature of the fairs I’ve followed (and given the information that is already available), I expect this year to be another down year for the sorts of games I most enjoy.  In future posts, I plan to talk more explicitly about the games on my radar this year, the efforts that went into planning the trip itself, and how I will organize my time at the fair given my expectations about the game quality.  If there is something in particular you would like to see me write about as an Essen first-timer, please note it below in the comments.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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4 Responses to The OG goes to Essen – Week 5 & 6

  1. AED says:

    Why sharpies? Lots of talk of sharpies. For autographs?

  2. AED says:

    Really, I am curious!!! No explanation…I’m a noob…is there a hidden reason for the sharpie inclusion on more than one of your lists that isn’t dawning on feeble, ol’ me?

  3. Dale Yu says:

    AED – I can’t speak for Jonathan, but my guess is that he needs Sharpies because he is a game designer and may have to sign some of his games. That is a frequent occurence at Essen!


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