Some pictures from Essens, passed; excuse me but I seem to have gotten some grit in my eye:
Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer, Agricola fanboy and jealous admirer of Carl Chudyk.
Archive for Essen
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Spiel.digital wasn't very good for most things WRT games and gaming but is WAS great for seeing people chat about things: my personal favourites were Alley Cat Games and Lookoutspiele (heckling from the peanut gallery).
For Surprised Stare Games Ltd, there was a well-stocked schedule of discussions and the chance to reflect on our 20 years together:
How it all began!
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Whatever that was that happened over the long weekend - Thursday to Sunday - it wasn't Essen Spiel 2020: Essen Spiel is so much more than an online catalogue with some randomly-shifting hexagons.
In many respects, the Spiel organisation has done exactly what it always does - every year - in that it provided an infrastructure within which companies are responsible for their own marketing, sales and decoration; the only thing that they left out was letting people come in; and, therein - my dear pals - is the absolute and complete 'rub'.
A series of Day 1 '404' errors does not replicate an excitable crowd pressing and pushing, calling and buzzing; no across-the-aisle "Halloo!"s, no "bumping into"s. No scurrying, no argy-bargy, no queues, no trolleys or cosplay, no meaty steam from the cafés. No hugs, no handshakes or fistbumps, no financial transactions, no arms aching from the carrying of oversized boxes. The sawing and hammering of a Wednesday 'build' was silenced; the careful weaving of vehicles between the flimsy stand frames absented. Without the physicality of people, it was a flat and empty experience: lonely, even.
But the Spiel.digital failed even in their basic raison d'être by providing an electronic infrastructure that was even worse than that of the UK Games Expo - and that, at least, had the excuse of having but a matter of weeks to cobble together!
Did no one think to remember how the physicality of a Hall architecture works? Each vendor allocated a position and a reference number, at the very least, and the geography of being adjacent to other vendors: had no one in the 'development team' every wandered those spaces and realised folks look around as they walk, they look up at the signs, they scan the tables and shelves of the booths they pass in case something should catch their eye?!
With an almost criminally-negligent paucity of Essen release previews on BGG and Tabletop Together, there's no way anyone would have enough information to enter the right text in to a bland search field so what we all needed - stuck in our living rooms - was the ability to browse: to wander through 3D-rendered Halls and happen upon hidden gems, a long-lost love or a multitude of surprises.
They could have utilised Steam and Epic Games and gods know how many other emulation tools to run a perfectly-serviceable 3D model of everything (on one's local machine) to give us that feeling of gliding along the pathways and peeking into the Stands: a virtual, clickable gallery of a Publisher's products with action icon links to their YouTube demo videos, simulator implementations and chat. Perhaps, a virtual TV monitor allowing you to access their live streams and discussions. Doorways to virtual meeting rooms (Zoom, Discord et al) for designer pitches and a Point-of-Sale for purchases - the latter preferably linked to a decent Warehousing operation.
Instead, we got a honkingly-shite shifting hex map and a couple of search filter boxes and fuck all else: a glorified hub of URLs. Of course, the companies still paid good money for all of this, while spending all of their time working out of someone else's (mostly-free) platforms anyway.
To be honest, it would've been better for everyone if Spiel.digital 2020 had never happened at all; indeed, the prospect of something similar having to be 'in place' next year too - a very REAL prospect - feels like it might the death knell for many small companies who just can't afford 600 euros for a lackadaisical webform. As I mentioned over the Summer, the pandemic has not only highlighted the separation of folk in the most stark manner imaginable but shown up the startling lack of imagination from the marketing and publicity sector of the Industry; this was a chance to establish a mechanism to expand attendance at major conventions without having to accommodate the physical numbers and they bottled it.Quote:
tl;dr - Spiel.digital needs to be a sophisticated 3D 'game world' in which the public can meander freely. The virtual stands need to be explorable too: rendered attractively, products connected to audio and visual tools appropriately and supported by a point-of-sale/warehousing/dispatch function. Events need to be centrally-published and accessible through the attendee's personal calendar (with notifications).
And all of this needs to happen EVERY year from now on: hand-in-hand with those who can be there in person.
Perhaps if everyone stopped thinking of the webdev-ing of conventions as a solely 2020 thing, we might finally take them into the 21st Century?!
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A gentle reminder:
And, so, we begin my final day as part of Surprised Stare Games Ltd.
Twenty one years ago, Alan and I sat in my living room playing Schoko & Co. - the first 'proper' Eurogame I ever played - and chatting about how we were going to go about publishing Coppertwaddle. As newly-fledged I.T. contractors, we both had a bit of spare cash - sloshing about and needing to be used up - and hit upon the Grand Plan.
We've been reminiscing a lot this weekend so, if you've not seen us already then dig out the videos, there's not much left to say: it's been amazing and rewarding and frustrating and exciting and enriching and difficult and exhausting and joyful and everything.
I feel tremendously sad; indeed, I shall probably cry a bit into a late evening beverage. This is the company I helped to create and nurture; it offered me the chance to develop and improve my game design and game play skills, it introduced me to some of the finest people in the whole, wide World (and some Americans too).
Next year at Spiel - if Spiel is happening at all next year - I shall be operating 'solo'; hopefully, I can blag an Exhibitor pass to get in to the Halls early to drink up the visceral anticipation of the set-up Wednesday and the exhausted, adrenalin crash of the Sunday evening. Nothing - apart from a continued pandemic and, of course, my eventual demise - is going to keep me away from that glorious City and that soul-surging festival of gaming: it is part of who I am now.
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Some days it seems that I've gotten myself lost in someone's grandparents attic and stolen away with an armful of their childhood distractions (not my grandparents' attic*, as that was filled with boxes of cigarillos and half-built Airfix kits).
There's something rather pure about the formal box construction: no around the sides / underneath advertising or graphics and a lid that slips down to half the depth of the base: rather like a shirt or hat box would've done. All stacked up on a shelf, it would've looked rather official - no indication of the 'play' and 'fun' offered within those glossy, plain cartons.
Without a personalised inventory system, a well-stocked child would've had the Devil's own job finding his Safari from his L'Attaque, her Bom-Birds from her Winkle's Wedding. Not like now, where every available square inch is festooned with glorious branding and luscious font-age, eh?
As for yesterday, in the virtual world of Spiel 2020, I eschewed the weird hexagonal bubble thing for more stream-based chitty-chats about Surprised Stare Games' history - this time the early Essen years withCoppertwaddle and Bloody Legacy:
Ben tries to coral the cupboard full of cats that is Alan, Charlie, Daniel and Tony
As per usual, I popped in to see the Lookout guys - talking about Cantaloop and Grand Austria Hotel** - then swooned over the dishy Brett J. Gilbert on the Alley Cat Games channel.
It's good to see my pals again but it's really no substitute.
*all this talk of 'attics' reminds me of a school pal of mine - Patrick 'Paddy' Martin - who lived in a Vicarage outside Monmouth and had a huge loft space; it contained books, records, toys and Christmas decorations but - more importantly - served as an arcade for shooting Action Men with air rifles. After we'd poured tomato ketchup in to their chest spaces. Boom and, indeed, splatter!
**Talking of GAH, the Kickstarter page has begun attracting the usual entitled, self-important wasps to it's delectable Jam Tart of an offering - complaining about prices, stretch goals they want but can't have, about the 12 picosecond delay in answering questions, about the inability to send 500 copies of the game at a 98% discount to Mars, about the lack of a rulebook translation (for free) into Elvish script and anything else of tiresome, niggling inconsequence. It's hilarious, truly.
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This no-Essen thing is just plain weird; I don't feel myself AT ALL. Indeed, I feel an intruder in my own home (and a bit like someone whose gonna come a cropper in The Final Destination movies) because I'm not supposed to be here!
I made up for it a bit by doing some SSG early doors - a particularly lovely interview/reminisce with Alan Paull and Ben Maddox on our Twitch feed - and then hanging around with a beer to celebrate the launch - and 30 mins later - the funding of the new Lookout Games Kickstarter campaign for Grand Austria Hotel:
I even put on my branded tee-shirt: the one Hanno and Klemens got for me in 2012 when Snowdonia was first released!
All good fun!
Anyway, back to my bitter nostalgia: as a Friday, the main 'geek' rush for SSG produce would've died down a little and I'd have about 20 euros left in my wallet: it's amazing how quickly you can absent yourself of 500 euros given 5 major Halls and a Galleria to wander around!
More streams and maybe some Discord-based bothering lie ahead today - just as soon as I can get the heavy morning of Work out the way! Until then, I'd encourage you to pop along to https://www.twitch.tv/surprisedstaregames (see above) and review yesterday's material...then have a look at these lovely photos of some thematically-linked Museum stock items I recently acquired:
And then join us for some powerful SSG controversy around 15.30HRS (half an hour later than billed above).
*sigh* Back to the bitterness: Had this been a normal year, I would've packed light for this coming evening's Heavy Cardboard Meetup and notched up over 30,000 steps walking to, from and/or around the Messe/Martinstraße so far. I imagine my scrappy, printed MS-Excel list of pre-orders, Bateson pick-ups and promos would be mostly-scribbled out and I'd have moved on to the ad hoc, "That looks VERY cool!" products and started the family gift shopping in Lego/Tee-Shirt booth anger. This woeful state of affairs is intolerable.
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Ah! Charity shops, how I have missed thee!
What with so many folks having spent much of the Spring inside, there's been a lot of 'clearing out' and it's taken until the Autumn for those donation-devouring dust-bowls (the Charity Shops) to open their doors: finally* - after a Summer of sorting and (probably) volunteer staff issues**
The Bible for people who revere railways over magic men in the sky; never to go anywhere without it on pain of corporate punishment.
*(just in time to close again - for the Winter - as part of the circuit-breaker lockdowns, Tier 3 wotsits and/or whatever other buzzword horseshit blister-dribble our "Government" pops and squeezes out while it pretends to give a fuck)
**(most shop helpers are of a more advanced - and Covid vulnerable - age, sadly)
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It's here! It's Spiel, 2020!
Normally, aroundabout this time (late afternoon), I'd normally be trundling in to Essen city centre to unload the car at the Messe and then make my way to the Hotel. It would've been a very early start, a drive to Dover, the ferry to Dunkerque and a further drive across France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Of course, this year I'm at home...but the wonders of modern technology mean I can be all in your face and 'ting from the comfort of my Library room easy chair!
To this end, here is the schedule of pre-booked streams and the like for the coming long weekend:
Do stop by, won't you?!
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Me and one of my favourite ever Germans, Mr Ulrich Blennemann, chew the fat:
(Uli is very quiet - uncharacteristically - in this one)
Here's fun: how many times do I side-eye my live 'room next door' stream from Dominic Cummings?
I do miss my European friends so very much.
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News of German event bans has been dribbling through the aether and, yesterday (Thursday), mumblings of August being extended through to the end of October began twittering.Quote:Sidebar: I'd love to have been able to ask for more info but, again, my Twitter account has been temporarily-suspended after textualising my wish that Alexander Johnson - our worthless, grubby, enema-hose-stuffed-with-rancid-ox-liver of a "Prime Minister" - "had died of Covid-19" like 52,000+ others have (40% of which were sacrificed to his eugenics 'herd immunity" strategem in UK Care Homes). Twitter is a cunt but Johnson, in the only example of him excelling at anything, is a monumental cunt. Anyway - as is pretty normal when I start any sidebar about "BoJo" - I have wandered away from my original point.With gatherings of 5000 or more being 'out', it's surely inevitable that Essen Spiel 2020 is not going to happen and that makes me more than sad: it makes me feel bereft. This is not hyperbole - I am not exaggerating for literary effect - because Essen Spiel has been as much a part of my life since 2002 as Christmas with the family: it is, quite simply, the one week of the year that I look forward to the most. If you don't believe me, then read back over all the October blog posts since 2011 (when this blog was delivered, screaming, in to the World)...
...the 'crush' and the queues
...the long-distance travel
...the U-bahn commute
...the chilly mornings
...the international community
...the hidden gems
...the giant haribo!
What fixes this particular star in the Heavens of my life is that my family have variously - and in their own way - shared in the experience too: when I talk of 'the huge Halls' or 'the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet' or the cheer on a Sunday evening, they all go - briefly - misty eyed with their own recollections. They get it; they understand why Dad goes a bit mental-with-anticipation in September.
No other show does this; Essen Spiel is a behemoth that simply cannot be compared to. UKGE? Not even close. Origins? You wish. And GenCon? Pah! A pale, inferior imitation in all respects!
Quite how we move on from 2020 is shrouded; with UK schools likely to be 'out' until the Autumn (despite the ridiculous, murderous howling of the right-wing press), it would seem increasingly-sensible that children be asked to retake this academic year. Nothing 'sensible' can relied upon with our Government, however; hot on the heels of this unprecedented Societal upheaval, you must remember that the UK is careering for its baffling Brexit suicide. Next year's Spiel may, for me at least, continue to be an unattainable oasis amid the lunacy as we find ourselves living in a John Wyndham-esque landscape of suburban breakdown, persecuted minorities and toxic vegetables.
(with apologies to Rupert Brooke)
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of an English field
That is for ever Europe. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom Europe bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of Europe's, breathing Europe's air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by Europe given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under a European heaven.
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