Dale Yu – Essen 2014 – Themes from the show



Well, through the years, I’ve realized that it gets harder and harder to remember everything that you did/saw/ate at the show. It really just can be a blur – sensory overload, if you will. If you’re ever in Essen, come check us out at the BGG booth by Saturday afternoon. Lincoln, Beth, and I had this awesome conversation where we just sat in the booth (nearly drooling) watching Zimeon go thru 88 lines about 44 obscure Japanese games in about 20 minutes – and we were too tired to do anything else.   Pure exhaustion after 5 to 6 16-18 hour days really can catch up with you. We almost didn’t have enough energy to laugh about our collective tiredness.


I tried to jot down some quick notes during the fair to post, and I did take some cursory notes – but as I sit in the plane trying to decipher them, it does appear that I’ve inherited “doctor’s handwriting”. I’m sure I had some awesome things written down, but I can’t read what I wrote! So, instead – I am sitting here with the Lego movie in the background trying to remember everything.


Today – I’ll try to give my general impressions of the show. Obviously, with more than 200 exhibitors and 800 games, it’s impossible to have seen everything, but yet, that won’t stop me from making grandiose generalizations about what I did see.

1) Lots of good games, but nothing awesome yet – for me, this year was similar to 2011 in that I have a LOT of games that I’m very excited to try, but there didn’t seem to be a standout hit that everyone was talking about. I ran into a lot of my usual Essen colleagues and we invariably ask each other the same question: “So, what is the awesome thing that I have missed?” This year, their answer was always the same as mine – lots of good, but nothing awesome. Does that mean that there is no “hit of the show”? Not necessarily, but it just hasn’t identified itself yet. One of the things that is hard to see while you’re at the fair is how a game will really play. Probably at most, folks have played a game once under less than ideal conditions (noisy hall, unsure of rules, etc) – so you might get a good first impression, but still not a true feel for the game. Come Christmas, when many of us gamers have had a chance to actually play the games a few times and compare them to each other, then we can really discuss if there is a hit. Could the Spiel des Jahres or Kennerspiel des Jahres come from Essen ’14? Most certainly. But I don’t know if I could say that I’d back any particular horse in that race just yet.


A good starting place for that discussion will likely be both the Fairplay poll as well as Geekbuzz. From a quick and informal comparison of the polls, it certainly appears that there is a distinct geographical bias to each. They are now located in different buildings, and it did seem like many of the games in Hall 1 were higher in Geekbuzz than Fairplay with the opposite being true for Fairplay.


2) There is a lot of buzz around games from Asia – a few years ago, the new hotbed seemed to be the Czechs and the Poles. This year, it is all about Asia. Japon Brand was there, per usual, with the constant queue in front of them. If they could figure out how to bring more games, they’d still be sold out by Friday afternoon – they’d just have more Euros in their pockets. I did some preliminary research, and I took the plunge on 6 games from them. Apparently, that’s a pretty low number. Almost everyone else I saw in line around me for pre-order pickup walked away with closer to a dozen. The line to buy unreserved games was about 100 people deep (at 10 minutes before the show opened on Thursday morning). The games are filled with new ideas, and are always a delight to explore.


But, it’s not just Japan. The new games from Taiwan are also very innovative. I had received a box from Taiwan about two weeks prior to Essen, and while there were both hits and misses in the box – the games that were good were very good indeed (Da Yu and Jungle Rumble). The Swan Panasia stand was constantly packed, and it sounds like they are looking to increase their square footage next year in order to bring more games from more new designers.


Not done yet though – the Korean pavilion was also filled with great ideas. Sure Coconuts is a hoot, but there are some really good strategy games to be had as well. Kings Pouch is an intriguing strategy game, and Abraca-what? Is a rollicking deduction game. Yeah, I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I can’t remember the last deduction game that I laughed all the way through.


Moreso, there is also a clear and steady stream of games that is being picked up by the more mainstream companies to repackage these games from the German or English-speaking market. AEG continues to do their “Big in Japan” line. Z-Man has a hit on their hands with Tragedy Looper (originally from Bakafire). Kosmos came out with a new small-box version of Machi Koro. IELLO has a new non-metal coin version of Kobayakawa.


After talking with a lot of different companies, there was more than a little interest in trying to get some of the new Asian games found at Essen 2014 signed. Furthermore, more than one company was examining the backcatalog of the various Asian companies to find other reprint candidates. I’ll be very interested to see what comes in the next year or so…


3) Lots of dice games, and lots of pouch building games. The theme/mechanic of the year looks to be pouch building. This is sort of a logical progression or reimplementation of deck building, and it’s interesting that it was independently developed in at least three new games this year – Orleans, King’s Pouch and Hyperborea. I am definitely looking forward to giving them all a try soon. I also noticed that I had picked up a lot of dice games this year. I know that I am naturally inclined to such, but it did seem more than normal. Ciub from Amigo seemed to be getting a lot of hype, and the game was sold out by Friday afternoon. I also saw a lot of people carrying around Nations: the Dice Game. I spoke for a short while with Rustan, the designer, and he was definitely pleased with the reception his game had received this week. I also managed to find one dice in a pouch game – Blöder sack – though I don’t think this involves any “building”.


4) Multiple stands – moreso than last year, there were lots of multiple stands for games. When you looked at the Geekbuzz standings, it was not uncommon to see three or even four locations for a game. Many games are now co-produced and released simultaneously at Essen in different languages, and each partner brings the game on their own to the show. There were also a few cases where subsidiary companies had their games as did the “mother ship” (i.e. Eggertspiele/Pegasus). In addition, many companies have gone back to the practice of renting out booths for playing their games, and these booths are not necessarily connected to the selling booth.


5) Hot temperatures – man, someone needs to remind me to pack shorts and t-shirts only next year. Not only will the 2015 fair be earlier in the year which hopefully means outside temperatures will be warmer; but two years running – the Messe has proven to be an incredibly hot place that apparently doesn’t have any ventilation. I’d guesstimate that the temperature in Hall 1 was hovering around 80 to 85 degrees by midday. Between all the people, the lights, etc – it was almost unbearable. You could walk into Hall 3 and notice at least a 10 degree difference in temperature. I’m not sure why there is such a gradient, but I do feel for the folks who are in Hall 1 all day.


6) Getting lost – OK this is probably more a theme just for me rather than for SPIEL goers in general… The layout is similar to last year. If you’re a board gamer, you can picture Essen as 2 honking big rooms filled with most of the companies that you’re interested in (Hall 1 and 3) which are connected by a side room that was entered mostly in order to get to the other side where the fried potato cart was located. If you ever managed to get out past the cart, you could slip into Hall 4 which was far more remote and desolate than Hall 7 ever was in the old setup.


The current layout makes everything seem so close together. When the fair was on the other side, you always seemed to be making your way through the maze of halls and passageways and parking lots to get where you want to go. Though the walk takes likely the same amount of time, everything just seems closer though without having to leave the building.


The funny thing is (well, at least for me) is that I seem to really have problems remembering where things are. I guess my brain was able to better compartmentalize the booth locations when I could at least attach a different Hall number to it. Oftentimes, especially in Hall 3, I would find myself walking to the wrong end of the building before I realized it.


7) Meeting new friends – just a quick shout out and thank you to all of you who stopped me in the halls or at the Carrera/Bezier booth. It was wonderful to meet folks and it is always nice to hear that people are reading the blog or playing the games that I have worked on.


8) Doctors as game designers – ?? Me, Peter Hawes, Kristian?


9) Fried potatoes – everybody likes fried potatoes. Food of the show for sure given that yummy Doner Pizza and Doner Pide were unavailable. A close second goes to Mörchens Eis which has the best ice cream in town. OK, time to go back to the movie. Everything in Essen is awesome.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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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6 Responses to Dale Yu – Essen 2014 – Themes from the show

  1. Craig Massey says:

    Dale – this was one of the best overviews/summaries of Essen that I have read in a long time. Well thought out and written. Great job! Maybe your handwritten notes should be ignored more often.

  2. Dale Yu says:

    Aww – you’re just being nice

  3. Craig Massey says:

    I’m never just nice – everyone knows that. Ask Richard.

  4. Alan How says:

    For me a theme was Civ/development games of various guises.
    Orleans, Hyperborea, Golden Ages, Deus, Historia, Fields of Arle, Progress, Omega Centauri, Uruk II amongst others.

    It’s funny how you can walk through the halls and see a completely different set of games.
    It was an interesting summary Dale, though I missed the fried potatoes!

    • Dale Yu says:

      Alan, next year I will treat you to a fried potato. Consider it your welcome dinner to the Opinionated Gamers :).

      FWIW, I looked at about half of those games on your list… and i wouldn’t have considered Orleans to be a civ builder. Did not look at Arle as it will be here in the US very soon. Progress was sold out by the time I made it to NSKN, so I didn’t take a demo on it. Historia was the last game I considered, but I ran out of space/weight for it. I am definitely looking forward to Deus though.

  5. Mark Gerrits says:

    Great to hear the Swan Panasia stand might be expanding. They were definitely my favourite part of this year’s Spiel.

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