Going to Essen Spiel 2019 was only my second convention (first was UKGE this year). I came prepared with preview list from BGG, hall plans and pre-orders. I was expecting it to be overwhelming and feeling lost.
it was an amazing convention; meeting so many great people, strangers and designers, content creators and playing so many games (56 games played, 28 different games, 24 new to me).
Standing cramped in a hall waiting to get the doors open seems like a waste of 1 hour, just to get to the games and tables first, but being it was new to me, and if you really wanted to get a game or play a certain one, it was what you had to do.
I did not expect people to clap when the doors opened, but the excitement was really high.
The next days I spend the time playing a few games with someone I met at UKGE; much better way to kill time and what we are all here to do – playing games!
I quickly found my way through the halls, as it was so well marked with small booth numbers and the pattern in the naming (letters for rows), and the good signs for which hall you are in and which you are about to enter.
The temperature was even higher than I expected in the halls, so I was just wearing a t-shirt (had fun printing some with my logo).
After lunch it seemed to cool down a bit more as people spread out.
People are fast, and with there being several entry points, many of the playing tables where already booked and the same with large queues in front of stores and booths.
This year they wanted to try something new “Preview Night”, which I was lucky to get a ticket for – sold out in 2 hours.
At preview night you would be able to try some of the games the day before. For the same price as the whole event, there wasn’t enough tables or free space to play games or enough instructors.
They had a little library, where you could borrow games. It could get better with every year, and I appreciate the idea, but for the price it’s not worth it for me (a little more than the whole Spiel) – we left after 4 hours but you could stay for another 3.
With Stella and Tom Vasel and the 2 demoing the game we played
It’s a game about drawing and quessing what was drawn in the style of Dixit. You roll the dice which limits which limes and shapes you can draw, which makes your catapiller and comb look the same in the below examples (2 triangles, 1 square and 1 line). This will give you less points. The idea was fun, but it didn’t seem completely finished and there were some kinks in the game.
Qwixx on Board
Next I played Qwixx on board, but we just played the base game, as none of us had played this. It’s a fun, little addicting dice game in the Roll & Write genre; so this means you have restrictions on which dice you can use and where it goes. I would definately considedr buying this, as it’s not an expensive game at all.
And finally we got to play the new The Mind Extreme, which didn’t disappoint at all. It’s more chaotic and challenging, which makes the game so fun. In this version you have 2 stacks of numbers, only going to 50, but one stack (white) goes from 0 and up and the other (red) goes from 51 and down. And extra challenge is that in some levels you have t play 1 or both stacks face down, only seeing the result at the end. We lost badly, but had so much fun. I had to buy it the when the convention opened the next day.
Just had to end the evening with a game of Draftosaurus (unfortunately no usable picture), which I own and have played a few times. It’s a nice little filler game with some strategic thinking. And who doesn’t love small wooded dinosaurs. You draft dinosaurs and place them on a small board with specific requirements. The first player rolls a die, which sets even more restrictions on where all others can place their newly drafted dinosaur. The board is double-sided and has some other placement rules on the back.
Opening times & After the convention closes
The convention opens at 10:00 until 19:00 Thursday to Saturday, Sunday only until 18:00. It#s always the last weekend in October (when we switch to wintertime). You can buy tickets online to save some time, but you pay a small fee. The vestibule opens 1 hour before, so you can stand inside if you are early. As mentioned before, some entrances has tables to sit at – perfect for playing games, while you wait
After the convention closes, it’s OVER. There is no official events after this – many agree to meet at hotels or bars to play and chat, but you will need to know someone. That is a thing I would love to see in the future, like at UKGE where everyone could either keep playing at the convention or at the near by hotel (even if you are not staying).
Leaving the convention a bit earlier to either get out of parking or finding a restaurant near by, is a good idea, unless you take your changes and just get the full Spiel experience.
The halls & finding your way
I was very surprised at how easy I found it to navigate the 6 halls. All booths has a small tag visual in the top, the rows are names alphabetical and the columns are numbers counting up (depends on how you view the halls). There are good signs to show which hall you are in also on the overview map of the halls – and thereby which hall you are entering. It also helps finding some bigger booths to navigate by.
Shows & events
The only shows that you can attend are something they call Educators’ Day, which is mostly about education and teaching, hence the name.
The Dice Tower said they were doing a show; you had to pickup the first come first serve ticket at their booth on the same day. I wanted to get them, but decided
Traveling on my own and having a boyfriend who claims to hate board games, playing a lot of games was high priority for me, and I actually found it quite easy to find people to play with, as I was just me – sure I had to sometimes spend some times walking in the different halls or waiting at some tables to find a spot. The people are so friendly opting to get games explained in English, even though I understand most German and them having more difficulties with English.
There are no open gaming areas – well I think I saw some people playing their own games at a break out area, but no big specific area. Also no after convention arranged gaming sessions.
There are countless booths with several tables to play the games on sale/demo with people explaining games to you. You might have to stand and wait for a while or find another game, but especially being on my own I found it fairly easy to play a lot of games.
I didn’t have any specific games I just had to try, which made it a bit easier finding games to play; I just went in thinking “I just want to play games, and as many/much as possible”.
Era: Medieval Age
The first game I stumbled upon was the very hyped game Era: Medieval Age which I was a bit on the fence about. It’s a roll and build game, where you are going to build the best city according to many different ways of scoring. It looked pretty in the end. The game was ok, it seemed a bit too complex for what I had thought about this, so many buildings to build, but I like the diversity; so no 2 cities are the same. There is minimal player interaction, it’s mainly stealing a few resources and making sure others get their building area blocked my scorched areas. It’ s very luck based, but it seems you can almost always build something. It was fine, but for the price, which mostly covers the huge plastic pieces I won’t be adding this to my collection.
Humboldt’s Great Voyage
While I hadn’t heard of this game, I was invited by someone sitting on her own, and it looked potentially like something I might play, joined by 2 other strangers, we started playing Humboldt’s Great Voyage. The girl explaining the rules might either have said something wrong, forgot of it just got clogged up in the information – but the little rule mistake made us realize we where playing a never ending game. The game would end when the bag of discs where empty, but we kept putting new in 🙂 After this fix up it went much more smoother.
In the game you have to travel, picking up discs from one space and distributing to the others (Kalaha/Mancala style). For every match you get goods. the other players get to pick up a disc to use when shipping your ships. You make points by fulfilling ship orders and the different crew members you have at the end of the game. There is a bit of strategy, but it’s still very simple. I liked it, but it does place between a filler game and a more euro game – there are other games I like more, but we had fun at least.
The Rivals Networks
If you want to play test not fully released games or prototypes there are no specific area like in UKGE, but a few booths have some. I playtested a new The Rivals Networks with the designer Gil Hova – a great experience. It’s a more simplified version for only 2 players and a good way to ease into the original game. You don’t have to worry about aging your shows, keeping track of how your shows are doing every turn, as you will probably switch most of them out. It’s a battle for every time slot of who has the most viewers plus there are aso a few special goals for every season. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to play the last season, but it still gave me a good idea of the game, which will be on kickstarter later.
Azul: Summer pavilion
As something new The Dice Tower announced on one of their videos that you could sign up to play with one of them – only a limited sign up time, and I was lucky to get to play with Zee Garcia, who I really wanted – we played the new Azul: Summer pavilion. It’s great new initiative, which I hope they will continue doing. He got interrupted quite a few times with people wanted to give him games, talk or just say hi; but hopefully not too much. This is the 3rd in the line of Azul, and it shares a lot of similarities with the others, but has some interesting new twists.
One thing is the common pool of extra tiles, you can achieve by the right placement on your board (extra placement bonus). A difference in the game is, you only place your tiles when all the tiles from the drafting area is gone, and to place a tile it costs 1-6. So you are only placing 1 tile in every spot, but some spots are more expensive. The middle star/flower has to consist of 1 of each color.
I’m really looking forward to playing this again, and I even got the promo cards to give you special bonus for filling a star/flower.
One of the games I wanted to try was Obscurio designed by L’Atelier, but it was constantly booked and it quickly sold out. I finally the last day I got lucky. I played the Grimoire and even though we didn’t know each other, they were so in sync that we finished the game rather quickly. Such a great experience and with complete strangers (this is what I love about our board game community).
Another game I wanted to try was Fast Sloths designed by Friedemann Friese; he always finds some fun themes to make board games out of and this was no difference. You are sloths racing to get 8 leaves, but you are also very lazy so you don’t want to move yourself, but getting other animals to help you. each animal has restrictions of which areas they can walk in and how they move. It’s a very clever designed game and I look forward to playing the other animals
One game I couldn’t find much information about was the game Coralia which looks very colorful and fun. I played a 2 player game with a girl I just met. It’s a dice and set collection game in it’s core. The dice has a very restrictive way they need to be placed. We both agreed the game felt a bit flat; not much options and we didn’t really get into the game. This seems better suited for kids, and I’m glad I didn’t pre-order this eventhough the octopus is very cute.
Nine Tiles Panic
I had to visit the Oink Games booth, as I love Deep Sea Adventure and had to see if a new game would interest me. Usually I’m not really a fan of speed games, but this one intriqued me; Nine Tiles Panic. You each have your own set of 9 tiles, which makes up your neighbourhood and needs ot be placed so the roads are connected. If this sounds simple enough just wait, as there are 3 special themes that are drawn each round; longest road, most aliens facing agents, most adjacent dogs. You don’t notice all the details on these small tiles until a specific theme is drawn – it’s really well done. Being the first to say you are finished starts a timer for the others and gives you a benefit in case of point ties. You play until someone reaches a certain amount of points depending on the player count. Yes I had to buy it – the box is pink!
I found a game I had not really noticed on the preview list, but it looked inviting and later found out it was by Uwe Roseberg. The is called Nova Luna and uses some of the mechanisms as I Patchwork; in that each tile you take has a “time cost” and the person furthest behind is the next player. Would I liked about this was that you were making chains of colors in order to fill small orders and that the game ends imidiately when someone places their last disc on the their tiles. I ended up buying this and hope I can get the boyfriend to play also.
I like Tokaido and I had heard there should be a new game coming, I thought it was released but it seemed to come to kickstarter soon; Namiji. I actually had high expectations about this one, as I really like Tokaido, and the zen like state it can put you in, but still being a competitive game. The game takes place at the harbour where you will fish both from the sea and from a bag with shrimps and crabs. For me it felt exactly like Tokaido as there was not enough difference; sure you get penalties for not putting out your boats and there are some set collection going on. The later I did not use at all and won the game, so it could see a bit broken in that regard. The other thing I would say is, this seems more kid friendly, with the more flimsy art and the fishing part. If you have Tokaido you don’t need this.
Next up was a small game, Uxmal, which looked really interesting. You place tiles in 3 layers in order to match symbols to get the specific cards. You also have an option to place and move your 3 priests in order to score the points on the symbol they are standing on. The last thing you can do is exchange the order of the symbols (which symbols will score each round). Everything except plaving a tile requires you to discard cards. We played a 3 player game and at least 2 of us thought is was too simple with not really any choices and agreed it was more of a kids game. The game was very quick so I didn’t mind it.
Pharaon seemed right up my alley with some worker placement and ressource management, and I was right. In this game you are trying to have the most gloryfied after life, so you are tried to prepare for it. You do this buy selecting an action which you can afford. To select on of the areas of the board you have to pay the colored ressource matching the area. Then within most of the areas you have a choice actions but they all costs ressources. This game has a nice timer for getting the last players to hurry up to finish the round, cause every player that has passed for the round gets some bonus ressources for each turn. Unfortunately the 3 people I played with wanted to stop the game a little over half way, so I didn’t get to fuly experience the game or the scoring; but I liked what I played so far, and might be a game I’ll be picking up.
I had the game explained in German, but they didn’t ask and she was a bit embarrassed afterwards, but I told her I understood it, as she spoke clear and slow. My German is a bit rusty speaking it, but I still understand most of it. Anyway the game was Coloma. This was a game I was on the fence about backing on kickstarter, so I thought I should try it here. Unfortunately we only played 1 quick round, so it was really hard to get a good feeling about the game. I see some potential, but I’m not completely convinced – I think I need to play a full game probably to make a judgement.
Bees: The Secret Kingdom
I found a small, yet very beautiful game I had not heard about before, Bees: The Secret Kingdom, which is a card game about making pollen and using these to get new cards. Collecting sets of cards and symbols will score you points at the end of the game. It plays very quickly and simple to learn and play. The art is amazing. I didn’t buy it because I think I would not get it played enough, it seems appropriately for kids or persons, who doesn’t play that many games.
The Aquicorn Cove Board Game
The Aquicorn Cove Board Game is a family friendly co-op game about managing the cove, you live in and rebuilding it after the storm. In different phases you can rebuild buildings, clean pollution, go fishing or other actions. Each round starts with an event, which mostly is bad. We only played half a game, but it was enough to see what this is about. It’s not a fit for gamers alone, as there are not so much strategy, but introducing kids to co-op games is great.
A card game, which came out earlier this year is 5211 (forgot a picture) which I kind of avoided, but thought I might try it. It’s a simple game of trying to make a specific color have the most cards played, but if it has too many it will not score. Each player has a hand of 5 cards, playing 2 cards simultaneous – redrawing to 5 and then playing 1 card twice. After the first 2 cards, you have a good idea what people might be going for and you can already see if there is a clear majority in a color and you don’t want it, you can try to play so many it doesn’t score. Only 1 color scores each round. There is a small twist, the number 1 card has a Kododo symbol, and if there is a certain amount depending on players only those cards will score (no matter the colors).
A found 3 German people who I ended up playing 3 different games with. We started with Dragon Market on the easy level, but when another game opened up, we switched (but someonoe took over our game, so it was perfect). We found the game very fitted for kids, but the few turns we played it didn’t really excite us. You have to move boats or your meeple in order to gather symbols required on your order.
We moved on to the game Planet which has gotten a lot of talk about. You are buidling a planet with placing tiles on a magnetic cube. Every round (from round 3) you score 1-2 goals, who ever wins gets the goal/animal. If there are ties the card/animal will be score in a later round. You continue until your planet is finished. Then you do a scoring based on your secret terrain card plus the animals you score. It was a quick game, but maybe we should have thought about which tiles we took a bit more; playing this game again will probably make you think a bit more strategic. With that being said it seems like a more family oriented game.
The last game we played together, was I game I have played one time before, Photosynthesis; a game about planting, growing and cutting down trees in order to score the most points. The board looks stunning mid game and the decisions are hard; how long to do wait until you cut your trees, as only trees on the board scores you sun points which are used to do all your actions needed. Do you try and block the sun from other people or do you focus on yourself. I really like this game, and should be playing it more often, since the boyfriend actually liked this one.
A game I had seen pop up a few times at my local online stores is Topiary; so it’s not a new game. But I wanted to try it as I have seen some good deals on it, and was curious if the game was good. We played just a 2 player game, the demoer and I. It’s quick and simple, yet with some meanieness to it – blocking the view of the beautiful trees. You place meeples and take tiles, which you later place down. Every meeple will score the trees it can see in a straight line, but if a larger tree is in front it does see any other trees behind it. It’s nice, quick and simple, but in order for me to play it more I would need some more variants to play a bit more strategic and longer.
Passing Through Petra
While still at the Renegade Games booth I sat down with Sarah from Tantrum House to play a 2 player game of Passing Through Petra. You are basicly trading goods, but selling them requires a specific combination of merchants and goods. Not every merchant wants your silk. The game ends when someone gets rid of all their cubes, It’s simple but also restricting you to not being able to do the same action always, you need to do some of the others. I won because I had a huge combo in my last selling of goods, so it pays to stack up.
I had seen the Project L (forgot a picture of it) game on kickstarter some time ago, and it looked intriquing. It plays really fast (with 2 players at least), and you have to fill cards with the right shape to have it completely filled. This earns you extra pieces and possible new shapes, so you can fill even larger areas. You also have the possibility to upgrade your existing pieces, which might help you in the long run. The favorite action is building up a few project cards to fill and using the special master action to space 1 piece on every card, which makes you fill up more at once.
The last games I played where with the danes I stayed with; we had fun playing at restaurants as there was no space at the hotel. We played Cabo, which I have seen the box for some years ago, but never looked into it. It’s a simple memory card game which really puts you to a test. You have 4 face down cards and in the beginning you can look at 2. Your goal is to hope you at some point might have the lowest total value than the other places, by switching out your cards. Some cards have special abilites, spy, peek and swap, which helps (or makes it worse) you figure out what you have and get rid of your cards. There is special rule; if you think you have 2 of the same values card, you can change those 2 cards to the card you just drew. There are consequences if you are wrong.
The last 2 games I know very well, but it doesn’t make them worse 🙂 L.A.M.A. is a small card game, where you have to get rid of your cards and score the fewest point for your penalty cards. You can only play the same value or 1 higher on the card being played. If you manage to get rid of all your cards, you can get rid of one of your point tokens (the 1 chip or the 10 chip). Llamas are worth 10 minus points, but you only count the unique cards in hand, so having 5 Llamas still only gets you 10 minus points. It’s crazy and fast. At the convention you could take a selfie to get a special promo card – I will spare you the shelfie – which is a card you get when passing, the player who ends the round with this card, gets to discard one of the cards in your hand; thereby hopefully reducing your negative score.
Last game is Red7 and although the ones I played with only play 1 round for a game, it was good fun. I do prefer to play to the points needed (40 in 2 player). You have the colors of the rainbow, which has a value from 1-7 and special abilities. The cards can be used in 2 ways, played in your tableau to help you win the rule that is currently active, or change the rule so you are winning with the cards you have played (you are allowed to play 2 cards, one to change the rule and one to the tableau).
Meeting designers and content creators
It was great to see so many people take the time to either talk or get their picture taken with me. I met Elizabeth Hargrave, designer for one of my favorite games Wingspan. It’s one of the few games buy Board Game Hating Boyfriend actually likes. Had a quick talk and got my expansion signed (inside, so not to ruin the great artwork) and a picture. So fun.
Gil Hova, the designer of The Networks
I also meet the some of the people from the Dice Tower and played with 2 of them, Tom Vasel and Zee Garcia. Below is Tom Vasel.
Also met Stella Jahja from Meeple University, who I had chatted a bit with via Twitter.
Got my picture with Zee Garcia after he beat me in Azul: Summer Pavilion.
At the Renegades booth I found Will Meadows and Sarah Meadows from Tantrum House. I played Petra with Sarah and though it looked like for a long time, she would be winning, I just swopped in and took a win. Very nice of her to just play with me and not waiting to see if others came.
Lastly I spend some time at the BGG booth, having a great talk with Lincoln Damerst hearing about how Game Night started and other stuff. Really down to earth and like he is on screen – would have loved playing a game with him, but the booth was very busy.
Before making my Spiel Essen complete I had to find W. Eric Martin, as I had challenged him to a game of The Mind Extreme. Luckily I found him just shortly before I had to leave for the Airport. His copy was unopened, so we quickly shuffled mine. 2 others joined which turned out to his brother and brother’s wife. Many of the other BGG guys gathered around us and I think this pressure made me ruined the game, but we had a lot of fun.
And when you get hungry, there are so many different food trucks between the halls which will help you quench your hunger, so you can spend more time playing and walking around the halls.
For dinner we either ate close to the convention or went back to our hotel (30 min by car) and ate there. As our hotel didn’t have any places to sit and play, we were “forced” to play at the restaurants, but it was fun and nice not being alone in the evenings.
In Essen there are not that many hotels close to the convention, but those that are, are so expensive. I had firstly arranged to share an apartment with someone I only talked to online, but since she was lying about the place and keeping information from me, and just the fact of getting the key from her, made it so complicated, and I’m not sure why I agreed – it’s so not like me. I had some trouble getting the money back from her, but finally I got it. I quickly found a hotel, where the Danes I met at UKGE where also staying, even though it was further out, I was less dependent on others. They were so kind to let me drive back and forth to the convention most days, and we ate dinner and played games; such a good ending to a bad start.
For me travelling to Essen was a bit more tedious compared to UKGE; I had to take 2 planes and 1 train and 1 underground. To my hotel it was some extra public transport, as it was farther away. But actually going from the Messe Gruga Ost to Düsseldorf wasn’t as bad and only look like 40 minutes.
Having to log around the big and heavy suitcase and the extra sports bag, but I made it, someone even helped carry my suitcase, which was so nice and unexpected :).
I skipped volunteering even though I had offers, as I was getting stressed just thinking about that and what I wanted to get out of the convention myself. And I’m so glad I skipped it, huge halls, massive people, crazy hot halls and just non stop teaching. At UKGE I also felt I had missed out on playing as I had limited time and not in the best time slots.
I had tried to pre pack my suitcase and sports bag with how many games and the size I was expecting, but I was still worried that the bags where to heavy. I could barely close the suitcase, but I made it fit. It turned out I still had 5 kg for the check in bag left and 3 for the hand bag – so note to self for next time, buy more games and pack them into each other better.
On the first picture, the game 5211 was cut of and on the below some games are missing, but together it should be the whole Haul.
Apparently I had to experience everything at Spiel Essen, even getting sick. With 209.000 visitors it’s not shocking. Starting with a sore throat on Sunday morning and an increase in sneezes throughout the day. I still kept my head high, but the train and plane right home made it worse. Getting at the airport I was told I apparently had a standby ticket for the last plane home, and only would get on the plane with people didn’t show. So annoying and with the plane being 25 min late I didn’t have much time in Amsterdam to change. Luckily there was a seat for me – I actually would have preferred not to know as it came me unnecessary stress. Monday at work was really hard, with the con crud getting more full blown. Tuesday the coughing started. But still think it was worth it!
When you have spend 4,5 days gaming it can feel strange to come home, to suddenly have it all end. Actually I played games every day for a week. What helped me get through it was arranging a few game nights, and being occupied by work. I still miss the atmosphere and just feeling like you belong. At home I kind of feel like I have to hide that I play games, as I don’t know so many around me that share the same interest.