I know that I tried to write a bit each night while in Essen, but I’ll be honest with you, it’s hard to get enough time to do all the things that you want to do – and thus, the short writeups each day. I’ll try to fill in the blanks from those short reports here. My apologies in advance if I repeat things I said in the daily pieces – it’s hard to remember sometimes what I’ve written about and what I haven’t when I’m running at such a sleep deficit! So instead, I will try to write up a little each day and catch up by the end of the week. I also intend to try to upload some of the pictures each day as well. This may mean that I post twice or maybe even three times a day this week, but we’ve suspended our usual one post a day for at least the next week, and maybe even the one after that, to allow everyone to post their thoughts on the fair. Larry seems to be covering the Fairplay list results, and I imagine he’ll be able to track down the final results soon… Joe, Lorna, Ben, Jonathan, Liga, Ted, Eric, Doug&Shelley and Brian were all at the show as well, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some/all of them had something to say as well. And Luke usually manages to come up with some super cool computer analysis of some Essen stat/ranking…
I’ll start with my overall feeling about the fair. On a personal level, I enjoyed the trip like I always do. It was great to catch up with old friends, always exciting to see the new games, and just nice to not be at work. It was a shorter trip this year, no time for sightseeing, and I don’t think that I missed the extra days. I’ve already seen many of the nearby cities in years past, so a more focused trip was a nice change. I’ve become a creature of habit over the past ten years, and it was good to see the same folks at my usual hotel and commonly visited restaurants again. That being said, the big change this year was that the hall layout was different for this year’s fair.
The Essen Messe (convention center) is a giant complex of 12 Halls – some physically connected and some separated by short outside walkways. Up until this year, the fair was split up amongst 8 medium and small sized halls. It was at times clausterphobic as some of the smallest halls were literally jammed with booths so that the walkways between the stands were only a few feet wide. The nice thing was, the layout didn’t change much, and it was easy to remember how to get to places or where you would find companies, food trucks, etc. Additionally, each of the halls had a characteristic to it… 10/11/12 was the usual home of the big boys… Hall 6 was for RPG/LARP/freshly fried donuts/etc… Hall 4 was for the companies from countries new to Essen (Czech Republic, Poland, Japan, Korea, etc.)
This year, the fair moved to different halls. I had thought that I read last year that the change was due to planned renovations, but while we were walking by Hall 12, it certainly looked like it was being used. THere were tons of decorations hanging from the rafters that looked Christmas-ish in nature. In any event, the reason for the change isn’t important now – most of the folks I talked to said that the plans are to stay in the current arrangement for at least the next two years. By the time I left the fair, I was ALMOST feeling comfortable with the layout and where I would want to go to find a particular stand. The new numbering system is bewildering at times. A stand now has a 3 part location, for instance: 1-G-106. This means that it is in hall 1. Once in hall 1, you look for corridor G. Then, once in the correct row, find stand 106. If you are looking at the printed out map, the lettered corridors generally start at A on the left and increase as you head to the right. The numbers of the stands all start at 100 in each corridor and increase in number as you head down the page.
So, thus far, it sounds like a perfect German uber-organized efficient system, no? In reality, the system was confusing. Part of the reason is that many of the larger booths spanned one or two corridors, often causing you to detour around them to continue on the path you wanted to be on. There were times when the numbers jumped around in the row, and in some of hall 3, lots of the stands didn’t have their number tacked to the stand on Weds and Thursday (this was fixed by Friday). Finally, not all of the corridors were “straight”. Some would occasionally have booths sharing a letter but in the next row over for some reason. The advantage of the new system is that you could at least get in the general vicinity of where you wanted to be, and then just wander around until you found what you were looking for. Despite that, I felt like I was walking more than ever. Or at least I was constantly in motion. According to my fitbit, for the entire trip, I walked 133,450 steps which it thinks is about 68.6 miles! Miles carrying two fully laden IKEA bags should count double in my estimation!
Overall, I am a fan of the new layout. I really liked having only three halls to roam around in – and realistically, it was only two halls to wander in as very few stands in Hall 2 interested me. In the old system, I spent a lot of time walking back and forth between the halls, and the entrances to each hall was often a pinch point traffic wise as people and overladen IKEA bags had to wait their turn to walk through small doorways. This added a good 5 to 10 minutes at times to get between stands, which was frustrating when you were just in hall 9 earlier but then had to go back to get something else when you were now in 12. The new layout puts just about every gaming stand in 1 or 3, and thus much less time was spent traversing the single outdoor walkway between these two halls. It definitely felt like I was able to spend more time seeing games and people because less time was wasted in transit. Additionally, as I have written earlier, the actual walkways in halls 1 and 3 appeared to be wider which made it much less likely that there was traffic jams in the halls. You could usually scoot by any crowd this year without being forced to stop and wait. It was definitely a bit worse on Saturday, but even then, there were very few times we actually couldn’t move anywhere.
As far as attendance goes, it felt lower this year. Eventhough it was the region’s school holiday weekend -a scheduling issue that usually packs the convention – the crowds on Thursday and Friday seemed light. There weren’t many lines in front of stands and definitely no traffic jams. It was pretty easy to get from place to place on the first two days. Now, again, some of this may be due to the wider halls and new layout which certainly reduced the crowded feeling, but combining my feel for the crowds with reports from some of my friends that sales were also down a bit would lend some support to my theory of lower attendance. Saturday was certainly more busy than the first two days, and things were definitely more congested on my final day at the show. I definitely had a longer walk to the show each day as my hotel is on the opposite side of the Messe complex than the new entrances, but then again, everyone else had to walk further as well. There does not appear to be an Underground stop near the new entrances, so everyone still gets out over in front of Hall 12 and then they have to hoof it to the entrance. On the way home, a savvy convention goer might have gotten on the U at the Florastrasse entrance to be one stop ahead of the masses at the Messe stop and snag a much needed seat for the ride to the HBF.
It was a bit different food-wise this year. GIven the layout, convention goers had two different restaurants to choose from, one at the front of hall 3 and one in the lobby of Hall 1. In addition to the restaurant areas, there was a second story lounge above the Hall 1 lobby that had tables set aside for gaming. Most of the old food vendors that I have eaten at in the past were still there. The trusty Snack-Point stands were also still there, but much harder to find. It appears that there is at most one in each hall, and some halls don’t have one at all – so I only found 2 of them this year. But, there was definitely not a shortage of food options. It did seem like there were a few new food trucks in the halls. I ended up walking to the Galeria a lot as the fresh fried donut stand was out there as well as the new (to me) spiral fried potato stand. This place spiral cuts a potato (like an apple) and then stretches out this single potato over a 12 inch (30 cm) skewer. The whole thing looks like it gets a dip in light batter or flour and then the whole dang thing is fried. A few minutes later, out of the oil, seasoned salt liberally sprinkled on it, and then some optional extras like paprika (scharf, of course) or drenched in mayo or curry sauce. I must admit, it was pretty freaking fantastic. If I had found it earlier, this could have very well been lunch every day of the show.
My initial impression on the games this year is that there are a lot of solid games, but honestly, I don’t think there was a game that stood above the rest buzz-wise. With the modern electronic world though, I’m not sure if there will ever be another Essen where there is a “must-have” game that everyone flocks to at the show. The reason for this is that Essen-goers are much more prepared for the show than ever before. The amount of information available on the publisher’s websites, BGG, blogs like this, etc. is so great that it is really hard to be surprised by a game. People already know if a particular game is their sort of game or not. And while I think that the glut of information makes for a better educated gamer, it seems (in my experience, at least) to reduce the excitement a bit because there isn’t that same sense of discovery as in the good old days. That sense of mystery, and the rabid desire of Essen attendees not wanting to miss the next great thing would push the hype meter off the charts in the past.
The number of games on offer continues to grow and grow, and it’s now to the point where it is truly impossible for me to see all the games that I’m interested in over the course of only three days. (Due to my real life work schedule, it would be almost impossible for me to stay through the Sunday of the fair because I have to get back to work Monday morning)… I pretty much stuck to my list for the first two days, and I managed to get to just about every game that I was interested in pre-show in the first day and a half. Then, starting Friday afternoon, I pretty much wandered the show trying to see things that were on a lower tier from my pre-show research as well as finding things that I had missed completely. Now that I’m back home, there are about a dozen games that I had wanted to check out, but just ran out of time… Heck, one of them (Craftsmen) was literally across the way from the BGG booth, and I kept telling myself that I was going to go there next, and somehow I never managed to do this. Same goes for the mexican wrestling dice game – another one that looks fun, but one that I never had a chance to demo. I suppose that I will learn about them after reading other people’s reports from Essen. I know that the other OG writers that were at the show all have slightly different interests, so it would not surprise me if we ended up trying/buying most of the games that I would find interesting. But, if not, I still looked at over 100 games in 3 days, and that’s not a bad number…
The BGG booth was centrally located in Hall 1, and it served as a meeting point for many. Many folks knew that designers/publishers were coming to film their games for GeekTV, and there was a fair amount of waiting/gawking at the gaming glitterati as they were at the booth. There were also very brisk sales of promo items – I’d guess about 50-60 different promos were on offer – 5 EUR for one, 20 EUR for five. About a dozen of them were sold out when I was leaving the fair Saturday afternoon, and many others had very limited quantities by then as well. The stand also served as a meeting point for at least two or three math trades over the course of the weekend. And, for whatever reason, the workers at the stand were constantly bombarded with questions about where a particular company was. Not sure how or why this happened – but it was definitely another reason for people to stop in. Finally, there was usually a line two or three deep at the computers set up for Geekbuzz voting. The ratings were constantly updated, and when I was leaving, Twin Tin Bots from Flatlined Games was at the top. However, I didn’t really have a chance to follow the Geekbuzz longitudinally over the course of the show, so I really don’t know how games were trending there…
The Fairplay poll was easier to follow as they leave up a printout of the most recently tabulated scores at their booth. As a result, you can walk by every few hours and see if new poll had been posted. If your camera didn’t malfunction, you could even take pictures of the list each time to compare and see trends. As it turns out, I only managed two readable pictures of the Fairplay poll – one taken late Thursday and the one I posted earlier which was taken Saturday morning. The initial list has so few votes that they merely put out an alphabetical list of those games that are trending high.
By Saturday, you can see that the games are now rank ordered – though a game must have at least 15 votes by this time to be ranked. This small sample size though only highlights the downside of the poll systems (both Fairplay and Geekbuzz). Ideally, you’d like the number of votes to be in the hundreds. When you only have 15-25 votes, even a few votes can really move the average, and gives a high standard deviation to the values. That being said, the two polls are about the only real-time feedback that a gamer can get at the fair, so I still spend plenty of time walking by both booths to see what the current rankings are to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything “big” at the show. The Saturday fairplay list did direct me to UGO, and I’m glad for it, as I very much liked my demo game of that one. I might not have specifically gone there otherwise.
One other thing to account for with both polls is that there is likely a significant geographical bias to both polls. This was heightened in the old layout as both of the polling booths were about 300 meters apart. This year, Fairplay was in Hall 3 and BGG was in hall 1 (or vice versa). I do think that proximity to the polls matter because it does seem like games from closer booths get more votes over the course of the show. With the two polls in different buildings though, at least the two polls have a different bias… I’ll probably have to wait to see the final results of both to see how my theory holds up.
The last neat thing this year is the story of the lost iPad. Early Saturday morning (about 9:30), my brother and I were buying a game at Asmodee before the lines formed. As we were paying, my brother picks up an iPad and hands it to me: “Here’s your iPad”. But, I tell him that it isn’t my iPad – mine is home in the hotel room. Anyways, I had an old school iPAd 2, so seeing that the lost iPad had a grey magnetic foldup stand, I knew that it couldn’t be mine. The guy behind the counter (who is the only other person in the booth) tells us that he remembers that his first customer of the day was looking his list up on that iPad, and he would just put it behind the desk so that the guy could come back later to get it. I chuckled a bit at it thinking how much it would suck to not only lose your list at Essen, but also lose an iPad in the process – (also not realizing that later in the day, I would also misplace or lose my own list…) – and we just walked away.
Fast forward a few hours – I’m doing a short volunteer stint at the BGG booth so some of the regulars can take a quick break, and Anthony Rubbo comes up and we chat about the games we’ve seen that day. Only at the end of that conversation does Anthony remark that he’s gotta go look around for a bit because he somehow misplaced his iPad somewhere in the 200,000 square foot convention center at some point during the morning. So, of course, I sound like the Amazing Kreskin when I tell him,
“Oh, yeah, I know where it is…”
“Yeah, it’s a new one with a grey cover, right?”
“I bet it’s at the Asmodee store, tucked to the left of the cash register. And you lost it between 9:15 and 9:30 this morning…”
“…” and he breaks off in a run to Hall 3.
Proof of the recovered iPad later in the day. I’m guessing that if Nick had been able to get it, he would have sold it on Funagain.com… But, the odds that Brian and I are the only people essentially to see this iPad in the huge Messe and then randomly run into the guy who lost it is almost inconceivable. Well, I’m glad that this story had a happy ending, though clearly not as happy as Rubbo.
And on that note, it’s time to take a break – I’ll get to the actual games in a later post this week.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor