Well, another trip to Essen has come and gone, I’m now somewhere around 20 trips, and I’m still loving the adventure of traveling to Europe and discovering new games. My trip this year was 8 days. I planned for some sightseeing at the start of the trip – essentially throwing a dart at the map of NRW and ending up in Aachen to start. Travel was surprisingly easy this year as I managed to subscribe for a month for the Deutschland ticket, giving me access to pretty much all public transport except the fastest trains.
Of course, as you might have read earlier in the week, the train system was a bit of a mess due to some construction issues (a road bridge on the autobahn was demolished and that was a big factor) though it seems that there was also some other local track issues that caused my multiple delays, reroutings and cancellations. Oh well. 49 EUR for all my trains, trams, busses and underground trips was a steal.
I took advantage of seeing a couple of small towns that just happened to be along the way or in the area as I had “free” transport. Though, due to the delays, each trip did seem to cost more in time than expected. I saw lots of old buildings, and I also ate a lot of my favorite German foods.
I love the fact that Chinese imbiss places in Germany offer duck as one of the regular protein choices, along with chicken and beef. Back home, it’s nearly impossible to get my favorite meat – but in Germany, an astute traveled might have it three or four times in a week!
Also, no trip to Essen would be complete without a few doner pide from my favorite restaurant. I’ve been eating here for at least 15 years, and the proprietor usually remembers me when I come in. It’s super nice to have a regular place in a neighborhood 4,400 miles from home where you can just walk in and the guy knows you and knows your order.
By Monday night, I had ended up in Essen. I had an early lunch meeting on Tuesday, and given the train issues, I thought it would be better to change my hotel plans and get to Essen on Monday. This did give me the opportunity to see some super early setup for the fair, and I also ended up helping a few stands set up to pass the time. Walking around the show floor also helped me acclimate to the new floor plan.
This show also was the debut for the new mascot, Meeps. There was a lot of talk about it prior to the show. Weirdly, Meeps was almost nowhere to be found in the show itself. Instead, there were some mysteriously joyful AI-drawn gamers on all the signage.
The organizers of the show changed the booth locations and the general flow of patrons during the week. I admittedly was skeptical of how this would work, but I’m happy to report that I found the changes to work well. The first change was that the booths were now supposedly organized by type of game. That is, most of the “kennerspiel” game companies were in Hall 3. The mass market folks (Ravensburger, Kosmos, etc) were in Hall 6. The CCG stuff was primarily in Hall 1. Of course, it was impossible to make the map perfect. Some companies make games in different classes, so decisions had to be made on which group that company should be with. Also, due to the physical constraints, some publishers were found just through the door to the hall they should have belonged to. All in all, it worked pretty well, and I think it helped people see a concentrated number of booths close together if they had a focus.
The other big change was in the overall flow. The main entrance is finally finished with the remodeling process, and the organizers were trying to funnel almost all the people through this East entrance. The lobby and the outside area is the largest to accommodate the crowd, so it makes sense from that standpoint. Also, this now gives the majority of the fair the grand entrance of coming into Hall 6 – where all of the “big boys” are situated…. Including Disney Lorcana. Like at GenCon, the Lorcana line was a dominant feature of the entryway, and it was prominently front and center to the incoming crowd.
Though this was the closest entry to my hotel, I found that it was also nice to walk around to the South Entrance (which plops you into Hall 1) – as there was almost never a line to get in. The organizers tried to have most people prebook tickets through the online shop, and the East entrance was actually the only place you could but a ticket onsite. From what I saw, it looked like at least 95% of the fair-goers had tickets prepurchased on their phone. Paradoxically, the line to actually buy a ticket and get in was way shorter at the fair opening times than the prepaid line. However, both groups ended up in the waiting area in Hall 7, so I don’t know if any time would really be gained by this.
Overall, the halls felt as crowded as pre-Covid. The “Spiel Shuffle” was definitely back, especially in Hall 3. It could easily take 5 minutes to go 200 yards/meters in some areas of the show. Oftentimes, transit times between appointments in different halls would often take 10 minutes, and that’s using all the experience I have to cut through the FG outside areas, go thru hidden doors and sneak outside through the parking/loading areas. Interestingly, one of the quickest ways was sometimes to simply leave the fair from one exit, walk outside on the sidewalk and enter again through a different main entrance.
From what I saw, gamers were definitely ready to spend money. I expected the line-up for Lorcana and at the Cundco (HiG/Carc) booths; those stands have always had lines. Similarly, the Asmodee shop is another traditional place for a line. However, this year, Spiel felt more like GenCon than ever before. Lines everywhere; especially in Hall 3 where there was the least room for it! Some super popular games such as Evenfall (dlp/Nanox) had a pretty steady 10-15 minute line for game pickup for most of the day. I asked other folks who have been to multiple previous Spiel fairs, and we all agreed that the number of lines felt higher than in previous years.
The trip to the airport was the usual harrowing 170kmh jaunt in a mini-van taxi. I’m usually pretty glad we’re going in the dead of the night so I can’t actually see what’s going on. Next year, travel will definitely be a longer thing as Delta is killing the ATL-DUS flight which means there won’t be a single transatlantic flight from DUS. This might mean that I’m forced to take a domestic flight in Europe to connect to the US, and man, that will put a cramp in my packing shenanigans.
New pro-tip discovered at the airport on the way out. Find an empty check-in counter at DUS; the scales are always on. You can at least double check the weight of your bag and then you can empty out all the pockets of your jacket to ensure that your bags are as close to 23.0 kg as possible. I managed 23.0 and 22.9 kg. I think there is 86kg of stuff on that luggage cart… and well, that’s more than me!
Another fun weight saver I discovered this year. Get you one of these empty neck pillow bags. You can stuff it with laundry, and it’s super stretchy, I managed to get 4.1 kg of laundry in here. No one ever thinks to weigh your pillow.. https://amzn.to/45lqwbQ
Anyways, a little bit more tomorrow. I’m about to board my plane, read some books and catch some naps. It’s gonna be a long hard day at work Monday catching up, but then after that I’ll try to write a bit about the games and other things that I saw.
I would definitely say that the fair was a succes for me – and also a great success for the new operations team. I’ve had the pleasure to work with a number of them before, and they have transitioned well from their previous positions in the game industry to this new role. I look forward to returning in a year, and I’m sure that next year will be bigger and better!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor