I have not previously attended Essen, and since I suspect many readers of this blog haven’t either, I wanted to provide some insight into the experience. Of course, I’m also going to talk about the games I’ve played.
Arrival, German Trains, and German Food
I’ve never been to Europe before, so this was my first transatlantic flight. In the end, it wasn’t bad: the plane was actually more comfortable than its domestic counterparts. After landing, going through German customs was a breeze: the customs official saw my luggage tag (which has game insignia) and asked if I was in town for the “tabletop convention.” He stamped my passport and told me which train went to Essen.
I was a bit intimidated by the German train system, but it turned out to be easy to navigate. Three steps: (1) Find the train numbers that go where you want to go; (2) Pick a train based on projected departure and arrival times, and (3) Wait for it to arrive and hop aboard. It really is that simple. It helps to know which trains are faster (regional express is better than S-trains), but that is easily figured out. It was two trains to Essen: one from the airport to Dusseldorf Hbf (the main station), and then a regional express train from there onto Essen.
A quick thought about the German trains: being from the American midwest, I don’t often ride trains, but the ones I have been on are clunky and slow. I knew the German trains could be fast, but it surprised even me, and it was a really cool experience. I don’t know how fast we were going, but it was far, far faster than 70 miles per hour. And the German countryside is beautiful.
(A note for those of you attending at some point: there was a fire at one of the stops on the way to Essen a couple of days ago, and it has caused some delays and a couple of cancellations, even today. So just be aware that plans might change!)
I’m staying across from the Essen Hbf (the main station in Essen) at the Mövenpick Hotel Essen. There are hotels closer to the Messe, but I booked kind of late, so this was my best option. So far I like the hotel, and I love the location.
It turns out that train stations are commercial hubs in Germany (another thing that surprised me), and there were several delicious-looking restaurants and fun shops. I had heard people praise the currywurst, so I gave it a try, and it was delicious. It cost about 3 Euro. I also had a bratwurst baked into a croissant (only about 2 Euro) that was great. I finished it off with the best apple strudel of my life (also about 2 Euro). I intend to go back, so I’ll snap some pictures these great foodstuffs.
Dinner was döner pide (which Dale already posted about). Great conversation plus great food. At Dale’s suggestion I tried the Apfel Schorle, which is a mix of apple juice and mineral water. Delicious stuff.
German Gaming Culture
I had always known that board games were big in Germany. But even I’ve been a little shocked by how prevalent it is here. From the customs agent who spotted my luggage tag, to people I talked to on the train to Essen, this hobby is of keen interest here.
I had heard that stopping by a Toys ‘R Us would show just how big board games are in Germany. It turns out that my hotel is right next to a Toys ‘R Us, so I popped in after lunch. Here’s what I saw:
That’s an entire wall (not just a shelf: a wall!) of board games. The Spiel des Jahres winners get special signage to draw consumers in (look right below the sale sign). But here’s the best part: there were German families there that were browsing the games and discussing them. Even the children were involved, talking about getting the latest expansion for certain games. As a hobbyist, it was one of my favorite experiences of the trip so far.
Apparently the department store next to my hotel has a big game selection, so I’m going to stop by there tomorrow. So I’ll follow up with some pictures of that later.
The Messe: Bigger (and better?) than Gen Con
The hotel being across from that station provides easy access to the Messe: you just hop the U11 train, and four stops (and 10 minutes) later, you’re there.
I had to drop off some things for exhibitors at the Messe, so I had reason to stop by today. There are large signs welcoming us:
And inside is simply overwhelming. I had been to Gen Con, but floor space wise, this is a multitude greater than Gen Con, 3-4 times by my guess (which is admittedly uneducated). And the booths are simply amazing: here are some pictures from the Asmodee section showing the excellent artwork and thematic implimentation:
Overall, there is much more space to demo games. However, there does not seem to be any space to actually play games. So Gen Con has the leg up there. But since I spend little of my convention time during the day playing games (I save that for the hotel at night), I think Essen has the overall advantage. I’ll post more about Essen v. Gen Con in the coming days.
The Messe also has stands that sell used games, and there are several new game retailers (like Spiele Offensive and the local Essen FLGSs) present. Plus, there are food stands throughout. In short, this feels like a one stop shop for German families that love board games.
The highly anticipated games are piled high. Not only does Repos have massive stacks of 7 Wonders, but most of the board game retailers on hand do too. Same with 504 and a few other games that I expect will be on the hot list. I couldn’t help but notice that there are stacks of Colt Express — this year’s SdJ winner — everywhere.
Money isn’t allowed to change hands in the Messe today (although I will say that rule appears to be widely broken). One exception: you can pick up (and pay for) preorders. So I picked up my 7 Wonders Duel pre-order, and here are the “goodies” that come with it (which Dale talked about earlier). The picture isn’t the best, so for the sake of clarity, there are three things: a signed limited print (mine is 131/1704) (and I can’t tell if the signatures are real), a Messe card to use in the game, and a metal game piece.
I also asked nicely for a copy of the Hanabi mini-expansion being distributed for free. Eric Martin has previously reported on it for his excellent Spiel Preview, but here’s a picture of what it looks like. Overall, the art follows the art of Hanabi. I don’t know that it’ll fit quality wise with my Hanabi Deluxe, but it should work with plain Hanabi, Hanabi Extra, or Hanabi Fun & Easy.
I haven’t played many games, but I did ask some questions today and watch a few demos. So I’ve settled on the below as my most anticipated list: I’ll be looking to get a play in in the coming days, and if I do, I’ll comment good, bad, or otherwise. I’m not going to provide full reviews: I’m sure the other OG will provide more detailed thoughts in the week ahead based on a higher play count than I can achieve at the convention.
And these aren’t the only games I’ll be looking at: with more than 800 games being released, my real goal this week is to find some hidden gems not on the hotness list!
- Porta Nigra
- 7 Wonders Duel
- Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5
- Russian Railroads: German Railroads
- Inhabit the Earth
As a reminder, I’m not saying these are the best games: I haven’t played any of them!
Other games would have been on this list but were removed for various reasons. For example, Terra, because I covered it at Gen Con; Shakespeare, because I got my hands on early; and Pandemic Legacy, which isn’t an Essen release for me because I’ve decided not to try it at Essen (to save the full experience for my game group). There are other Gen Con releases that get a wider release at Essen that would have made my list if I considered them true Essen releases (such as Codenames and Mysterium) and not Gen Con releases.