Dale Yu: Essen 2017 Recap Part 3
Well, so far, in part 1 and part 2 of my recap, I’ve been going in chronological order. From here on out, I’m abandoning this strategy. Why? Well, to be honest, things were such a whirlwind this week, that I am pretty much having trouble remembering the order in which things happened. I didn’t really take great notes, and anyways, the actual timing of the events is less important than the discussion of them. So, with that – let’s head back to the halls for the actual fair.
This year, it did seem busier than previous years. At this point, that statement is purely based on empirical observation – it just felt busier. I’m sure that we’ll get an email soon from Merz Verlag telling us the turnstile count – though how they calculate that is quite unclear as there really doesn’t appear to be any counting of entrants. You have a ticket, they punch a hole in the date to show you’ve entered – and that’s it. At a minimum, they can calculate the number of tickets and multiply by the number of days the ticket was purchased for, but that’s about it.
For me, surprisingly, Thursday was the busiest first day I can remember. Sure, it’s traditionally the lightest day, but I felt that this year it actually rivaled Saturday for the crowds. Every walkway was packed during the day Thursday, and it seemed like there was more buzz than usual for limited edition promos or games. I was most surprised by the Carcassone promo which only had 300 copies available at Spiel. That’s the sort of tactic I’m used to at GenCon, but rarely seen here in Essen.
Of note, the day at Essen now starts earlier than advertised. Though the ticket and signage clearly state that the fair opens at 1000, each day there was an announcement overhead around 0940 stating that due to the size of the crowds waiting to get it, they had no choice but to open the doors early. On Thursday, I did make a very early trip back to the hotel with my first IKEA bag full of games, and the lines were ginormous. At the small side entrance, the queue backed all the way up, filled the sidewalk for about 75m in each direction and threatened to spill over into the street.
Guards were everywhere trying to control the line (or maybe better called a blob) – without much success. There were also reports of people fainting in the lobby area waiting to get in. Thursday was a super uncomfortable day. The air conditioning was either not working or not turned on. The average temperature was probably 80F in most of the halls, and closer to 85F in Hall 1 with all of the spotlights and electronics. Without ventilation, I’m sure that the shoulder-to-shoulder lobby area was a total hot box. I’m glad to say that the halls were much cooler on Friday and Saturday – the ventilation system was operational, and both of those days were cloudy/rainy and the lower temperatures outside surely helped as well. I think some of my fellow OG writers were worried that they might not have packed enough t-shirts as the Thursday heat portended multiple wardrobe changes just to stay dry!
I am wondering if everything will end up having to move back a bit next year. The entry for exhibitors is still set at 0900, but if the show continues to open earlier, they may need to let the workers in earlier as well in order to give them enough time to setup (as well as do their own exploration of the show). I suppose there is some time during breaks while the show is going on, but it probably takes you 20 minutes to get from one hall to the other when it’s so crowded – with that much time spent in transit, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to actually look at anything once you get there.
Looking back at the week – there were a few themes that seemed to develop
- Most games are here in English – walking around the halls, there were very few games which you could not find only in German. More often than not, if a game had multiple language editions, they were displayed together – OR each of the different language partners had their own copies. While the center of the hobby is still obviously German, English is the lingua franca around the halls. The EN games are there as they are the most accessible language version for the non-Deutsch speakers. (This is an aside/rant for another column – but I do wish that American kids were forced to learn more than a cursory start to a foreign language.) One of the games that was at the show in limited EN quantities was Majesty from Hans im Gluck – but there were still some of the ZMan cobranded boxes around. I was also surprised to see copies of the new EXIT Games from Kosmos available there in English. I had heard that they would not yet be available – but yet, Lorna found a set to bring back to the States (sadly, I did not know until after I had left the fair on Saturday).
- The sheer number of games makes SPIEL almost untrackable – Each year, at the press event, we’re given a thick white book which lists all of the exhibitors as well as all of the new games being released. The final count was over 1,000 new items at the show! As I had mentioned earlier, I did not have as much time as usual to prepare for the show; but with so many different new titles on offer, it’s now impossible to feel like you have done even a moderately complete job. Heck, my must look at list – which took me nearly two full days to track down (and I didn’t even see everything on the short list!) – was about 45 titles. That’s less than 5% of the show! And I had only a single day left to see the rest? Impossible! As the number of titles grows, my trip to SPIEL reminds me of my first visits (18 years ago!) when there wasn’t an awesome SPIEL preview on BGG. You just make a few notes of the things you know you might be interested in – otherwise, just put on your walking shoes and just hoof it and stop and learn about things that catch your eye. As it’s now impossible to even come close to seeing everything – I’m just trying to find interesting games while I’m there.
- All the cool kids have sand timers – In what is surely parallel development, there were lots of sand timer games on display this year. Three specifically caught my eye, and I can already envision a game night where we only play sand timer games. The three that I was interested in were all covered above in the press show.
- Production quality seems overall higher – I spoke to a lot of industry people as well as the other OG writers who came to Essen and we all felt that there seemed to be a general increase in the quality of production. This is probably less notable from the major publishers because they have generally had a high standard already, but from the smaller or independent companies, the games certainly looked to have more polish, and at some times, even a bit of chrome. I am not sure if this is market driven or if this reflects lower production costs at LudoFact or in China. In any event, it is getting harder and harder to tell games from the little companies from the big boys.
- I’m really getting old – my bedtime in Essen gets earlier and earlier! Gone are the days where I could stay up all night, drink beer and play games to then do it again the next morning. Now, it’s come home, pack a bit, head out to dinner, have maybe a beer (or half a bottle of ALDI wine) and then pass out by 2200. This is also a big part of the reason why I didn’t post as much during the show itself. That extra half an hour that I used to carve out to write up stuff just didn’t exist this year!
- Asmodee is everywhere yet nowhere (for me) – Asmodee remains the 900lb gorilla in the industry, and while I don’t remember any new acquisitions recently; it seems like they continue to expand. The bulk of hall 1 was devoted to the Asmodee houses (As well as much of the front of hall 3), and many of the companies still have their own stands at the show. Yet, despite their huge presence there, I did not actually spend much time, if any, at their stands. A lot of this is due to their new release strategy. Many of the Asmodee houses had their games debut at GenCon, and as a result, many of the “new” games actually weren’t that new to me. Otys from Pearl Games was one of the new games that I looked at, and the Ticket to Ride France board also was new to me. Given the huge number of new games at the show, it was quite helpful to already have a small percentage seen over the summer already. I still did bring home a game or two that I didn’t get at GenCon (When I Dream by REPOS for instance), and there are a couple that I am waiting on the US release (Otys and the Ludonaute games).
- Logistics is the key (for everyone – publishers, stores, tourists, etc) – The trip is dominated by logistics now. Getting your games to the show, managing your pre-orders, tracking down the shortcuts to get through the halls as fast as possible, packing your bags as efficiently as you can so that you can go back the next day and pick up more. There were some shipping issues that affected some of the games getting in. I spent a few minutes catching up with Nick M. from Funagain Games – he comes every year to get the newest games, air ship them back to Oregon and then get them online to be sold before Thanksgiving. It’s a huge process, and I was amazed at how much organization it takes to pull it off. They bring back enough games (pallets and pallets) so that the cost is spread out amongst all of them, and frankly, it makes it almost cost effective to simply place a huge order with them rather than come over, deal with jet lag, pay for airfare/hotel/food/train/fair ticket, etc. Sure, the prices you’re going to pay on the website seem high, but heck, the games are expensive here. I saw lots of new releases with fair prices of 50 or 60 EUR. Once you factor in the manpower, air freight, and everything else, it’s a pretty good deal. Whenever I finally decide to not come to Essen, simply ordering the games will be a viable route. Of course, for now, I still really enjoy the trip – though my days seem to end an hour or two earlier than they used to!
(don’t worry, this one isn’t going on your Funagain bill – I paid for Nick to have the best potato EVAR)
- I’m glad that I walk a lot. I eat a bunch.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor