Exhibitor Prep for Essen Spiel 2013

I’m a game designer and a publisher who has attended Essen Spiel as an exhibitor for the past 7 years. As a result, a good deal of my world revolves around Essen. I start planning for Essen more than a year before it starts. That may sound insane, but there are long lead times to get a game, especially a large one, ready for the Essen Spiel fair. So I thought it might be interesting for gamers to read a timeline of what I’ve done to prepare for this year’s Essen:

July 2012: Suburbia is finalized and ready for the printer for the 2012 Essen. The feedback has been enormously positive, though I won’t know how well it will sell until October. Looking at the different games in the queue. I decide that the focus for Essen 2013 should be on the first major expansion to Suburbia. With that, I start pulling together various pieces that were discarded during Suburbia development into something vaguely cohesive and interesting.

August 2012: I’m even more sure that Suburbia is going to be a hit, so my efforts on the expansion continue. Playtesters are confused why they’re playing an expansion for a game that doesn’t exist yet.

September 2012: Uh oh. I’m launching Suburbia and Mutant Meeples at Essen, and I realize that my booth at Essen is way too small. I make a note to talk to the organizers at Essen regarding getting a bigger booth the following year.

October 2012: The realization that my booth was too small wasn’t accurate; the booth is barely big enough to fit the 3 giant pallets of games that are delivered, let alone booth furniture. Fortunately my booth neighbor doesn’t show, so I store games there for the first day while the booth staff of five people (including myself) spends all our time cracking open cases of Suburbia and Mutant Meeples and selling them to customers.

boothbefore2012

The pic above is from the Wednesday before the show, before the cases of Mutant Meeples arrived. Note the empty booth next to us, which became our storage area for Thursday. Also note that the people playing Suburbia are sitting in the aisle. Whoops.

November 2012: I decide my second game for Essen 2013 will be Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition, which is getting great feedback from playtesters. Another game called You Suck is also a likely candidate. With all these games, I decide that I’ll need a bigger booth at Essen 2013 for sure, and plan on doubling in size.

Inqisition Poster

January 2013: Every night through the month, my wife and I play two 2-player games of the Suburbia expansion, working on tile and new functionality balance. Meanwhile, Inquisition and You Suck are both done ahead of schedule. The expansion gets a name: Suburbia Inc.

Print

February 2013: Inquisition and You Suck get sent off to the printer way earlier than I had expected. Now I’m looking to debut them at Origins instead of waiting until Essen. Knowing I’ll definitely have Inquisition and You Suck available for Essen as well as Suburbia Inc, I commit to a double-sized booth at Essen, which oddly enough costs about three times as much as a regular size booth.

I do the math several times:

Cost of one booth: X           Cost of a double-sized booth: 3X
Additional exposure at Essen Spiel by having a larger booth: Priceless

At least, that’s what I told myself. And I really don’t have a choice. That tiny booth I’ve been living in for the past 6 years just won’t cut it anymore.

April 2013: At the Gathering of Friends, I get a chance to try out a bunch of Essen releases: Spyrium, Giester Geister Schatzsuchmeister, Concept, and Russian Railroads. I self-select trying prototypes in terms of not wanting to play kinds of games I’m not fond of (war games, co-ops being at the top of the list), so I tend to walk away with games that I’ll be adding to my purchase list. Spyrium was a must have, and I’ve already purchased a copy at GenCon. GGS is a co-op game that Brian Yu strong armed me into playing, and I liked it enough that I will pick up a copy, even though I don’t like playing co-op games. It’s that good. And the pieces are amazing. Concept is a party game from Repos that fell flat for me. The idea is awesome, but the actual gameplay just didn’t work for me; it was one of those games I wanted to be over long before it was. And then there’s Russian Railroads, the Heaviest Game Ever From Hans Im Gluck, which is a phenomenal worker placement game with some great new ideas. So my list of Essen Games begins, as always, in April.

May 2013: The month is taken up entirely with playtesting a new game that is the spiritual successor to Suburbia. There’s some tile laying and building, but it’s quite different otherwise. I’m pretty sure this is Essen-worthy, but it will have to wait until 2014. Plane tickets to Europe are purchased. This year I’m taking the family to Rome and Barcelona for the week before the show.

Because Inquisition is one of the major games at Essen, new t-shirts for the booth staff are designed, this time with a werewolf theme to them. The downside is I probably won’t be able to wear these on the plane, what with overly-sensitive TSA agents.

t-shirt

June 2013: I stumble across a new game that seems like a great fit for Bezier Games. I start work on developing it, even before I have a contract with the designer. The contract process can often be long and drawn out, but in this case it drags on for months, meaning the game won’t be available until BGG.con at the earliest, and even then there will be heroic efforts involved to get it there.

At Origins I debut Inquisition and You Suck, but the shipment doesn’t arrive on time, resulting in the booth being mostly demos. I also experience the weird Origins werewolf situation, where the players there seem mired in 1995. Getting the word out about Ultimate Werewolf is a challenge, which is admittedly a first; usually werewolf players are incredibly excited about the new roles in Ultimate Werewolf, but in Columbus they’re too busy slapping their thighs (seriously, they do that to cover up night noises) and not having a night zero Seer view to pay attention to what is now the de facto way to play werewolf. But it goes to show that even in our globalized board game world, there are pockets of players who just haven’t been exposed to certain things. Next year I vow to come up with a way to introduce those players to the magic of Ultimate Werewolf gently.

Suburbia Inc is done and sent off to Lookout for final artwork and translation into German, Polish, and Italian.

I round up the booth staff for Essen. This year it will consist of seven people, including my two teenagers (the child labor laws in Germany hopefully aren’t as strict as they are here, as I plan on working those kids until they collapse). I send out Booth Guidelines to the staff (including the kids), about what to do and not do, and about not causing an international incident involving the police in a Burger King parking lot.

Ultimate Werewolf continues to sell well, and Inquisition seems like it will be following that path, so I start work on designing a countertop display to show off Bezier Games’ line of Ultimate Werewolf games, which should be at 3 major games by the time Essen rolls around. I’ll have one available for the booth at Essen:

3D-pop-display-small

July 2013: Inquisition and You Suck sell into distribution so well that I won’t have any for Essen. I hold back a bunch of cases of both games to sell at GenCon, but I put in an order for an Inquisition reprint right away. It’ll just barely make Essen as a result. Dale Yu is on board to develop the Suburbia follow up game, now definitely poised as the “big game” for Essen 2014. Suburbia Inc is off to the printer so it will make Essen. I create a tentative schedule for booth personnel.

I learn my booth location: Hall 1, Booth G147. This year at Essen we’re in totally different halls because the other ones are being remodeled. Hall 1 is huge. Nearby me that I know about is the BGG booth, Lookout Games, and R&R Games, which is directly across from me:

Hall1w-beziergames

August 2013: Inquisition sells out at GenCon and I show off Suburbia Inc and Suburbia for iPad. I have a few cases of You Suck left that I’ll be bringing to Essen to sell to the Europeans who haven’t seen it yet, but I decide to focus on Suburbia Inc and Inquisition at Essen as the main games to demo. I start working wholeheartedly on the Essen 2013 booth design. I get carried away:

3d-Stand-base

September 2013: I have a giant list of the things that need to be in place for Essen. That game I was excited about back in June? Well, the contract is in place and it will be announced at Essen now, and shipping in January. I’ll be showing it off for the first time on Wednesday, October 23rd, in the BGG booth, which will be broadcast live everywhere. Of course, I’m on at 10:00am, which is 4am on the east coast, so there won’t be a lot of live eyeballs at that time, but BGG records everything and there will undoubtedly be a news item about this new game. I can’t say anything about it yet, but it’s absolutely awesome. And we’ll be showing it off in the booth. Because of that game and the big 2014 game, as well as yet another game that’s slated for 2014, I get a booth at Nuremberg.

Then I get really carried away and order a big round hanging sign that will be stored in Germany and used at both Essen and Nuremberg:

3d-Stand-with-hanging-big-sign

One of the things that is frustrating about attending Essen that you sort of just learn to live with is figuring out what game is being played on exhibitor tables. There’s not a lot of room, so boxes usually aren’t on the tables where the game is being played, and since the games are new, you don’t recognize them by their components. So it can take a while to figure out what game is what. I realize that this is going to be a problem in my new mega-booth, so I create signs to be hung above the demo tables to show which game is being played there. I create extras of the signs in case I need to switch things up during the show:

hanging-signs-over-tables

The booth schedule is finalized, but my presence there will fluctuate as I already have more than a dozen meetings set up with designers, press, and publishers, and more will continue to be set up over the next few weeks. I’m in contact with the manufacturers for Inquisition and Suburbia Inc constantly to see when those games will be arriving at Spiel.

My list of games that I’m interested in for Essen is now around 30 or so, and every week now I’m browsing through Eric’s preview on BGG and adding things to that list, and occasionally preordering. So, with about one month to go, it seems like the majority of work is done, but there will be dozens of little things that need to be done between then and now in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly at Essen.

October 2013: Copies of Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition are on a ship going to Essen directly from the manufacturer. Suburbia Inc has been printed and I’ve received my advance preview copies in the US, a few pallets are going to Essen, and the rest are being shipped to the US for distribution. Figuring out how many copies of games you need at Essen is always a concern. Ideally, you want to sell out of whatever you bring (so you don’t have to ship anything back, incurring more costs), but you don’t want to sell out too early. In a perfect world, all games would sell out late Sunday afternoon. Of course, that usually doesn’t happen. Last year Suburbia sold out on Thursday, and Mutant Meeples sold out on Saturday. When that happens you kick yourself, because you’ve definitely lost sales from people who would have picked up games later in the week. Especially Suburbia…I probably could have sold double the number I brought with me last year. The good news is there are a ridiculous number of preorders for Suburbia Inc. The bad news is that I think I’ve already underestimated the demand for it, and it’s too late to change my mind because the rest of the copies are on their way to the US.

Speaking of Suburbia, I’m bringing copies directly to Essen of the base game as well. It’s hard to tell how well that will go, but my experience with Ultimate Werewolf and expansions (and to a lesser extent, Age of Steam expansions)  shows that many people buy the base game when they pick up expansions.

With those logistics mostly out of the way, I’m focusing on the announce of the new game, making sure everything is in place for October 23rd (just two weeks from today!). I’m planning on doing a Kickstarter campaign…not for the game itself, but for people who want to pick it up at BGG.con. The timing is such that I’ll be able to fly in advance copies at some extra expense, and I’m going to use Kickstarter to help me judge how many I should fly over. And in a moment of total craziness, I’m going to make the kickstarter campaign take place over one night only (be sure to follow @beziergames on Twitter so you don’t miss it). There’s a thematic and practical reason for that. Because the Kickstarter campaign will start the week after Essen (probably on the 29th of October), everything has to be in place before Essen. More logistics!

Things start falling into place by early October. We finally receive our hanging sign, which I test out inside the house:

Hanging-Sign-in-media-room

We also get a production copy of our new Point of Purchase display, which I stuff full of product to test out:

Final-Countertop-PoP-display

This may seem like a crazy amount of work, and it definitely does take a lot of time to get everything in place, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a great deal of fun. And a great deal of stress. But more fun than stress.

In our recent roundtable chat with OG designers who are having Essen releases, the truth snuck out…we all love Essen because of the new games and seeing our friends in the industry, but what really drives us is showing off our games. I can’t wait to demo Suburbia Inc, Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition, and The Game that Shall Not Be Named….Yet at Essen this year. And the weird thing about selling games there? It’s not the sale, it’s the idea that someone has enjoyed the demo (or premise or box or what have you) enough that they want to buy the game. That’s pretty exciting!

See you at booth 1-G147 at Essen Spiel!

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4 Responses to Exhibitor Prep for Essen Spiel 2013

  1. xitoliv says:

    Excellent write-up. Thanks, Ted! Eagerly awaiting my Suburbia Inc pre-order, and you’ll have at least one state-side 4 AM viewer for The Game that Shall Not Be Named….Yet. Now kicking myself even more for deciding to skip BGG.con this year!

  2. Dean Lizardo says:

    Great stuff Ted! Definitely staying up to catch your secret game announcement! It’s only 1AM Pacfic time!

  3. Jacob says:

    Loved this. Game designers do so much more than design games it’s amazing. Suburbia rocks and I’m looking forward to the expansion!

  4. Surya says:

    “I plan on working those kids until they collapse)”
    Of course you do. That’s why you got kids in the first place, no?

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