RogerBW's Blog

Essen 2015 13 October 2015

I'm just back from my third trip to Internationale Spieltage SPIEL, or "Essen" as it's generally known in the boardgaming world. With photos; all are cc-by-sa.

I stayed at the Bredeney Hotel again, a little over a mile from the south end of Messe Essen. This time I took a bicycle, which made that trip much more pleasant (especially since the way there is mostly downhill); there's a bicycle park by the station, though mine was usually the only bike I saw there.

Yes, all right, the way back laden with games is uphill, but… good old Oxford cargo net, which allowed me to get even my biggest day's shopping safely stowed for the trip. Why they sell these things as motorcycle accessories, and not in bicycle shops, I have no idea; I've had a huge amount of use out of mine. (It was sometimes raining, but my panniers are waterproof – they're the old Ortlieb top-roller design, which can be fully submerged without leaking – and the netted games were all shrink-wrapped.)

I did end up wheeling the bike at least part of the way back on most days: some of the route is un-lit except by passing cars and quite narrow, and I had a lot of luggage. But on the last day, when the show ended fifty minutes before sunset, I was able to ride all the way back to the hotel.

Mildly inconvenient: the bicycle parking is in a garage a little way from the hotel's front door, and one has to ask for and return the key each time one wants to get at it (i.e. twice a day). Ah well.

I was at the far end of the hotel's main corridor, and sometimes felt I could have done with the bike there too.

All right, it's only about a hundred yards long. And the breakfasts are still excellent. (There are other things to eat too, but I pay less attention to them.)

This is not the queue to get into Spiel. This is people coming to one of the very minor entrances, half an hour before opening time.

Most of the time I was demonstrating the new games from Indie Boards and Cards: One Night Revolution, Coup Rebellion G54, and a little bit of Melee. (Reviews of everything to follow when I get a chance.) They passed my Essen Demo Test: I was still happy to play all of them at the end of the show, even though I'd been demonstrating them every day.

(That's our booth quite late on Sunday; it was rather busier at other times, but I didn't have time to take photos then.)

Our booth neighbours included some sort of half-way house between subbuteo and real football (and yes, they did have to come over and ask for their ball back, but only once):

On Saturday evening this turned into something more like fantasy football.

There was also a "combined game" called Leaders which appears to need a tablet as well as lots of fiddly bits to play, and the vendors of Watson & Holmes, which sold out less than five minutes before the end of the second day.

This time I had a list of games I wanted to look at and consider buying. My hit rate (proportion of games bought at Essen that I actually play a lot later) hasn't been great in the past, and I hope to have done better this time.

The Bloody Inn is a bit more Euro than I usually play, but I like the theme. You are a murderous innkeeper in France, killing guests in order to get their money (or occasionally recruiting them into the racket). You have to get all the victims safely buried under new extension buildings before the police show up. This is basically tactical card play, with timing being very important.

I didn't buy Food Chain Magnate because the art was frankly old-fashioned (reminiscent of Monopoly), the theme didn't appeal, and the mechanics looked simplistic and abstract.

Star Realms: Colony Wars supplies the needed base cards to turn standard Star Realms into a three- or four-player game, or can be played as a two-player game on its own. (Or as a three- or four-player game with the base cards from Star Realms.) I love Star Realms anyway, so this was an easy decision for me.

I like the idea of Terra, where you answer trivia questions by putting markers on various tracks (to indicate size, date and number) or on a map of Earth, and gain points based on how close you are to the right answer. But, well, that seems to be all there really is to it. And it takes 45-60 minutes to play. I like my light party games to be much smaller and shorter; I can always play them again if I like them. For a game to deserve a long time, it needs to provide more fun than playing several short games in the same time would.

ExoPlanets was a kickstarter game, now available over the counter. I got various expansions thrown in for not much extra money. Players add planets to a star system, modify their own or opponents' planets, and try to get points by fulfilling random goals and/or creating life. I'm a little unsure about this one, but it was fairly cheap and looked promising; and it sold out, so I should be able to unload it at a reasonable price if I don't want to keep it.

Safe Breaker was an easier decision, because it's cheap and quick and surprisingly enjoyable. You are a gangster bear (don't ask) trying to get the combination to a stolen safe out of your fellow gangster bears. On your turn, you call a colour/number combination (as it might be "red 4"). Going round the table, the first player to have that colour or that number says "yes" and gets the next call. When you think you know a player's colour and number you can accuse them: if you're right, you knock them out of the game, otherwise you're out yourself. It's quick, silly fun even if it does need one to have a functioning memory.

I had hopes for 504, a modular game which lets you combine various options to produce a custom set of rules, but at least on a quick skim it seemed too self-satisfied with its own cleverness. Well, it is a Friedemann Friese design, and he seems to like rules where you can marvel at the levers moving behind the glass.

Perfect Alibi is a deduction game, like a more complex version of Safe Breaker, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way; it seemed somehow deliberately uninspiring and plodding.

Steampunk Rally is a silly race game. Various historical scientists draft cards to build exotic vehicles, then race them across a hazardous obstacle course. When vehicles take damage, bits fall off, but one can bolt on new things mid-race. I was quite dubious about this, but a quick play convinced me. (I also got the kickstarter version with the gorgeous metal cogwheels. Never understimate the tactile appeal of Bits!)

I'd been thinking about Welcome to the Dungeon, and Iello had it cheaply, so I added that to my small-short-games portfolio.

They Come Unseen is so very obviously aimed at me that I had pre-ordered it.

On the other hand, some games are clearly aimed directly away from me, to the point that I'm endangered by the backblast. (I'm sure they didn't plan to be right next to "Drinkopoly".)

Monopoly. It still exists. Why?

The balloon animals of the fair were the octopus and spider.

Jobs for tired dragons to do when they can't be bothered to chase down knights any more. (Gronf swoffle. "Oops, sorry.")

Some of the halls are so big that they have emergency exits in the floor.

Some sort of Star Wars dice game. I'm sorry, I just find "Würfelrebellion" funny.

Stabcon habitués will be familiar with Loopin' Louie. Well, now there's even a Star Wars version of that. (I suspect that having three players rather than four will make it possible to survive for longer.)

I've no idea why these guys call themselves that.

Some people are more cunning about shifting things around the fair than others.

Electric goldfish. Because they can, I suppose.

An arena for robot insects (Hexbug, apparently; popular with the young people):

I was, as always, tempted by the Unimat modular woodworking lathe and drill system. Maybe one day when I have more hobby time (and space!) to spare. But then I can probably get the real thing.

If you like anime girls bending over and showing their suspenders… even then, why would you want to play a game about them? And it's a CCG, i.e. you don't know what you're getting in a pack. Even if this were the best game in the world, I'd find myself saying "ignore the art, because the game is about this". And I don't think it is.

Oh yeah, there's beer too:

And general vaguely-game-related tat:

How to abuse chess:

Some stalls look more reputable than others:

Various magnetic sports games.

Iello had the right idea.

On day 3, there was some actual direct sunlight. This is the outdoor beer-and-cafe area. (Not much cafe, but many people bring their own food anyway.)

Really, Stronghold Games? You had to go there? (Hint: the male version of the poster for Space Cadets Away Missions, the central figure shown here, does not have a spine-hurting pose or even a huge codpiece.)

Striking the show:

Débris at the station. (Yes, they do use old DLR stock.)

The last night was the first time I didn't just head back to my room to crash. Instead I played Watson & Holmes, which has interesting similarities and differences compared with Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.

It's explicitly competitive, and while each location has a clue it can only be visited by one player each turn (whoever has spent the most carriage tokens to get there first). Obviously some locations are more valuable than others. As with SHCD, you get a bit of narrative tied to the location, and often it's entirely unrelated to the question you wanted to ask.

Locations are on decks of cards, so it'll be easy for the publisher to produce more cases (they already have some planned) – but as with SHCD there's basically no replay value. I've come to realise that I think of boardgames as being like books, something that should have the potential to last forever: something like this, or the Legacy games where you change them as you play them and have a limited number of plays, or the increasing number of games that require smartphones or tablets with closed-source software, gives the game a limited lifespan. That lifespan might be longer than I actually want it for, but it still feels wrong.

The show felt less packed than in previous years (Sunday especially was very quiet), but Saturday was as busy as always and I had a great time again. Thanks to the Indie Boards & Cards guys for letting me work there, and I certainly plan to do this again next year.

[Buy Oxford cargo net at Amazon] and help support the blog.


  1. Posted by Peter Edge at 09:34am on 13 October 2015

    Yes, hexbug in an ecology of variations is popular with the larval.

    "The Kawai Steampunk Android TCG" makes me think someone has a random game name generator running somewhere, and has decided to worship it as their living god.

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