RogerBW's Blog

Essen 2018 31 October 2018

At the end of October I went back to Internationale Spieltage SPIEL, or "Essen" as it's generally known in the boardgaming world.

A clean-ish getaway from home, slightly marred by a power cut - which turned out to be a dying fridge overloading one of the ring mains, which helpfully tripped its entire half of the breaker box. Hardly the ideal situation to leave behind, but oh well.

Mostly clear roads to Dover, though alas about half an hour too early to enjoy the sunrise over the sea.

A very calm crossing, with just a couple of rolls along the way, followed by a quite normal drive; though this year I got in too late to help build the booth, which was a pity. If I can afford to do this next year (hotel prices are rising even faster than the pound is falling), I may try for an earlier arrival.

Some Belgians are just fabulous. (On the Antwerp ring road; photo by Laurence O'Brien.)

I spent the first evening reminding myself of the rules for the games I was due to teach the next day.

The breakfast at the Novum Arosa is mostly cold; there are scrambled and boiled eggs available, but mostly I have sliced meat or cheese in Brötchen (small rolls, fresh that day). Four of those set up even a reasonably large chap very well for a light lunch, and I didn't feel excessive haste for supper.

A quiet Thursday morning - I was showing off Exodus: Paris Nouveau, which has a minimum of four players, so while lots of people were interested I only ran two actual games (they needed to turn up in a group of at least three). It's perhaps a bit fiddly, and hard to describe quickly, but it makes sense as soon as people start to play it, and it's the first Martin Wallace game I've enjoyed; I certainly wouldn't put it ahead of The Resistance, but it definitely holds a great deal of interest.

The view from the demo table, before the hordes arrived.

I sent our booth price list to a couple of friends, and ended up buying large piles of games for them. (Flash Point in particular has hard to find in the UK and often expensive.)

I think this fellow has grasped the core literary significance of Star Wars.

Then I took my trolley out for the afternoon's shopping. I'd deliberately planned to do this on Thursday since that's usually the quietest day, but some of the halls were distinctly heaving. I soon worked out that the best bet was to push the cart in front of me, so that I could see exactly what it might be about to run into, and steer with the rear wheels. And, of course, if in doubt stop rather than trying to slip through a gap that might close. It still wasn't ideal, though.

The 7 Wonders: Armada "boat" was certainly more annoying.

Rallyman GT - in development.

The local mobile network broke on Thursday under the load of lots of people; SMS still worked, but data was unavailable for several hours, and I gather voice was unreliable too. My phone also ran out of charge quite fast, even when I wasn't using it, perhaps another effect of overloaded cells; but I have a separate battery, so that wasn't a significant problem.

This is about the only occasion for which I ever spend several hours walking around shopping (thank goodness for well-padded Crocs - not the same model that broke earlier in the year). It's wearying, even though it's done in order to get games that I love, and even though I keep running into old friends. (And a flaw in the trolley plan that I hadn't remembered: all the toilets are up stairs. Well, there's one wheelchair-friendly one, but I wasn't in sufficient need.)

A little colder on Friday, at least until I got inside - they had the heating on. (Which really wasn't needed after the first hour or so.)

There are definitely distinct grades of luggage to be seen: the carrier bag, the backpack, the wheeled suitcase, the rolling soft luggage, the sack-truck with a folding basket or two or perhaps an Ikea bag, and the full-on trolley. Only the four-wheeled versions really take all the weight of one's purchases. (Actually the best option would probably be the rubbish-sack trolleys that the cleaners use: about 45 by 60cm, with a tall framework to hold the bag and allow steering.) And, for snob value, one can carry no luggage at all, which usually means "I'm working here" (or of course "I am a casual gamer who wandered in to see what all the fuss was about"). One chap was walking past the booth when his paper carrier bag tore open and dumped games; he moved them to one side, unfolded a fabric carrier from his main luggage, and loaded them into that.

More demos on Friday.

"I can only explain in English."

"That's OK; I can understand in lots of languages."

Friday was the day of Very Enthusiastic Frenchmen. Only two groups but they were very enthusiastic and came one after the other.

I was mostly showing off Senators, and probably half the groups that played it ended up going immediately to buy it. It has some slightly odd mechanisms (A sets a price for something, B decides whether to buy it from A at that price or take the money and let A have it, as seen in Isle of Skye) but people seem to get the hang of it fairly quickly, and the conflicts are interesting conflicts. There's some luck in the cards you draw, but I suspect any set of card draws can lead to a win for someone sufficiently good (which I'm not).

At the end of Friday there was Unofficial Beer with the other booth staff. I'd thought about looking for gamers in a nearby hotel, but I decided instead to get back and get some rest, stopping en route at the street food vendor for a lovely Currywurst Pommes. (I do like Currywurst when I'm sober too.)

(There was also really good bourbon.)

The hotel's second lift broke down on Saturday morning (the first one had died before I arrived). My room was 3.5 floors above street level. Fortunately I had already stashed most of my games in the car rather than taking them up. And by the time I got in on Saturday night it had been fixed! All right, a hotel hosting a convention might be expected to do that, but this place feels on a par with the Britannia Stockport for overall quality, with missing light bulbs and cracked basins and so on; so I'm really rather surprised they bothered. Maybe they wouldn't get their replacement laundry without it.

At least the trolley would fit in it. Just barely.

Waiting, at about twenty past nine, for the opening at ten. (As an exhibitor I could stroll past the crowds and be where I wanted to be when things started.)

When I'm trading games, I usually ask people to come to the booth. It always seems as though the ones dropping things off turn up before the ones picking things up. Which is fair, as they don't want to carry them around all day; it's just a pity that I can usually only keep a fairly small bag with me at the demo table, so it tends to overflow a bit.

Another good demo day on Saturday, mostly Senators again, with several Exodus sessions by request (it's definitely better with a lively group). In the evening, I drove over to the Dice and Mystics event in Bochum; they're a local gaming club who start their "fringe" around 4pm on Saturday so there's always a feeling of having missed the best of the party, but I tried Welcome To… (a roll-and-write that, while amusing, won't be jumping into my collection) and my own copy of Dice Hospital. Not sure whether I'll go back, though, even if I do make it to Essen next year; it's fun, but is it fun enough to be worth a full evening's excursion? Last year's fringe was somehow more enjoyable, though I can't pin down why; novelty perhaps, or just the people I met.

Sunday morning was for a final look round, mostly in the back halls, and some pleasant surprises. Time suddenly started to run very slowly in the afternoon, about 4:15 (in a shift finishing at 6:30). The hours had been whizzing past, then the minutes suddenly started to drag - then sped up again fifteen minutes later.

Kartoffelkrieg – don't mention Mr Potato Head.

Then it was striking the booth (the rented dividers have to be returned without posters stuck to them), and off to dinner and beer with some industry friends at Hans im Glück, a somewhat trendy (oontz oontz oontz) burger place.

Then on Monday, beer shopping at Getränkewelt (this branch is next to a tattoo place called Emergency Room, presumably so that you can make all your regrettable decisions at once), then a swift and largely traffic-free hurtle back to Dunkirk and home.

Even great brewers can make unfortunate errors.

This show continues to be Bloody Marvellous. I'll be coming back next year if I possibly can.

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