Essen for Agoraphobes

Before I get to my main topic, I thought it worth mentioning just how it was that – five years after stating that I did not expect to return to Spiel – I did return.  In the end, it all comes down to the same reason I went in the first place – seeing people – combined with one of the outs I left myself at the time – a good opportunity, courtesy of flying too often in 2017.  And – I’m glad I did go; I had a great time, primarily because of everyone I got to see and talk with.

But – I’ve come to realize, more strongly since my previous visit, that I have a mild degree of Agoraphobia.  Just to be clear, it truly is mild – I would not suggest that the techniques I list below would be anywhere near sufficient for someone who is dealing with a more severe case.  Crowds make me twitchy, and after too much time in a large crowd I really need to get away for a bit – but then I’m fine to venture back in.

So how – at the busiest boardgame convention in the world – did I still manage to have a great time, even with the largest Spiel attendance ever?

Well first – I arrived early.  Really, really early – the Sunday before the event started.  There is nothing going on related to Spiel that early – but it allowed me to get my internal clock settled, and become familiar with the city (or at least the few parts of it I explored) again.  As it happened, this also allowed me to make a side trip for work on Monday, though that was not part of my planning.

But then having arrived early, my participation in the convention was able to start Tuesday morning.  There’s not a lot going on on Tuesday – lots of opportunity to help smaller publishers set up their booths, and a reasonable chance to find some folks – but a lot of exhibitors don’t arrive until Wednesday.  Still – on Tuesday there is the chance to get a feel for the layout of the event.

Being there Wednesday is, in my humble opinion, the most enjoyable part of Spiel.  This does require some doing, such as securing a press pass or an exhibitor pass.  However, there are always companies looking for help at the event.  And an exhibitor pass was sufficient to gain entry to the press preview.  The press preview is really brilliant – most of the publishers have a table or two showing their new offerings; a few go a step further and have people acting out the roles of players in their games.  Most publishers are happy to talk about their offerings – and more importantly, it’s a great way to find out about games that one didn’t find in Eric Martin’s Spiel preview on BGG, either because they weren’t there or were missed.  And – while it is well attended, it’s not crowded.

Beyond the press preview, however, most of the booths are set up by the middle of the day, and the rest by the end.  While publishers are discouraged from selling games, there’s often an opportunity to collect prepaid pre-orders.  And there’s plenty of opportunity to find a workable path for picking up other games when the fair opens.  And best of all – many of the folks I wanted to see were there on Wednesday.

Of course, the upside to having an exhibitor badge (to go with the downside of actually working, I suppose) is being able to enter the Messe halls early when the fair does open.  While some publishers do not begin their sales until 10AM, when the fair opens to the public, most are happy to sell games as soon as they’re ready.  As a result, I was able to complete the majority of my shopping by 11AM.  Even better, the crowds during the first hour the fair was open weren’t too bad.

Loaded down with three very full bags of games, I headed back to my hotel – and took a break.  Which points to another recommendation for those who want to minimize the crowds they deal with – stay close by.  I specifically stayed at the Atlantic Congress, and was very happy to do so; not having to deal with even a subway to make it back to my hotel helped tremendously.  And, having unburdened myself, I took some time to catch up on email, went to grab a bite to eat, and generally – avoided people for a while.  Oh, and I figured out how much room I had left for more games, before venturing back into the halls.

When I did get back, the crowds had grown significantly; this was the only time I was bothered.  But I found less-busy places to go, completed my shopping, and was ready just in time for my one meeting with a publisher at the event.  Which – is a great way for those not fond of crowds to sneak away; most of the publishers either have small rooms at the booth that one retreats to, or even private rooms away from the convention floor.

And – then I went home.  This might not always be feasible, in conjunction with other suggestions above, but I was fortunate enough to be able to head home after a single day of crowds.  And, as a bonus, host gaming with new Spiel releases before Spiel had even ended; some early impressions from that session can be found here.

One final piece of advice for avoiding the crowds is simple and obvious – don’t go where the big crowds are.  I was considering picking up Blackout: Hong Kong, but when I saw the line I changed my mind.  And I completely avoided the discount sales in Hall 1 – and anything too close to there.  I even avoided any of the food vendors when the lines built up there.

Putting it all together – I spent only about one hour dealing with heavy crowds, and only a few more hours dealing with moderate crowds.  All of which kept the crowds from being a problem for me.  As always, your mileage may vary – but hopefully some of these suggestions will be useful for others who would love to attend Spiel but who are concerned about the crowds.

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