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The year I went to Essen and came back unharmed (mostly) - pt.1

Georgios P.
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Greetings! My name is Georgios. And this is my blog.

I went to Essen this year. For the fourth or fifth time, I believe. I was there two years ago and the years before that. Something about the availability of so many new, exciting and promising games just really grabs me and excites me in a way that I imagine other people experience when going to music festivals. Or really overcrowded all-you-can-eat buffets.

My eyes wander from stall to stall in excitement of all the clever and engrossing new ways that games aim to deliver a unique gaming experience. Admittedly, not all of them succeed. And as my gaming experience grows and expands I find more and more new releases land squarely in the "mostly mediocre, but there's one cool thing about it"-camp. Which I don't particularly mind, but it seems a lot of people I know tend to view it as proof that the hobby is stagnating, or they're growing out of it .... or what have you.

Still.. Essen is a fun time for me each year. And an increasingly expensive one, but that's the way things go, I guess. This year I've offered to pick up games for my friends who couldn't really make time to go there themselves. The list of games they gave me wasn't particularly long (something like 10 games in total or so), but it did change how I experienced the convention quite a bit. Where I used to casually stroll from one stand to another, trying out games or sitting in on a group playing a particularly interesting boardgame... I spent a surprisingly large amount of time going from one seller to another looking for the games on my friends' list. As much as I like to help my fellow gamer friends with pursuing this hobby, I think I will probably scale it down a little for next year.

Another thing that affected my time there, might have been the use of the new halls 1-3. While I can see the upside from the organizer's point of view - slightly more floor space and less continuously clogged hallways between certain stands - it also seemed to lose a lot of the ebb-and-flow I've come to expect from the stream of visitors roaming the halls. My point is, I think, that the halls felt more evenly crowded but also less recognisable? At least I felt that even after three days, there were still stalls I hadn't seen or had missed out on. In fact I discovered two stands I had been looking for only on my way out on Sunday afternoon. By then I had neither the time nor the bag space to pick up anything else. I don't think I ever missed a single stand in my years before. But overall I didn't mind the new halls, but they could have benefitted from a smarter, less confusing layout.

But then, nobody goes to Essen to marvel at the organizational achievements in arranging hundreds of publishers in some halls. Most people go there for the games, and so did I. In fact, not only did I buy some of those games, I played some, watched others get played and came away with a wide range of interesting impressions on how games work, how they don't work, how explanations work and don't work... and what makes a game exciting and accessible. Not only to gamers like me, but to people whose last memory of a boardgame consists of a flipping over a table in anger, paper money flying everywhere and throwing a tiny pewter top hat at somebody.

Games I Saw

I had a peek here and there at games that looked interesting, and the ones that stuck with me were Zombie 15, Eldritch Horror and SOS Titanic. The latter turned out to be a bit of a disappointment sadly, as it was described to me afterwards as a slightly fancier solitaire variant. I was looking forward to how the game would use the book design to create a changing game board. Especially as it was so nicely tied to a progressing narrative (that of the Titanic sinking).

Eldritch Horror was another game I only watched my friends play. They are both fairly interested in Arkham Horror but playing time and handling time is just a little too much for them. Eldritch Horror seems to fit nicely inbetweeen the convoluted bombast of Arkham Horror and the straight-forwardness of Elder Sign. Both were very taken with the game, and would have probably picked up a copy had there been any on sale. My one game of Arkham Horror was a very challenging affair with us continually checking up on rules, realising we'd been playing rules wrong all along and just generally confused as to what to do next. Accordingly the game hasn't really shown up on our game nights since then. I might give Eldritch Horror a try, when time permits.

Malacca had made my list of games to try out when I was reading up on the fair. As a Greek I found the name entertainingly silly, but it seemed a solid and quick bluffing filler. One of the guys at the booth was kind enough to run us through the rules, while the table was still busy playing a game. The components seemed of good to great quality, the artwork was colourful and evocative and the rules were straight-forward and easy to grasp. Sadly I was on a bit of a budget by the time I found the booth, so I didn't pick it up. I also feel that bluffing filler games are fairly well-represented in my gaming collection already. It might be time to look for something else to add.

Finally, the last game I only watched people play was a pre-sale version of Zombie 15. Much like Escape - The Curse of the Temple it features a live soundtrack that pushes the intensity of the game. I was quite impressed by both the way the game looked (colorful, glossy cards with some fun and evocative artwork) and the group playing the demo seemed to be really into it. Now that I'm away from the crowded halls in Essen, I'm having second thoughts about the cooperative, time-constrained aspect in combination with the zombie theme. It might be a good fit for my group, but it might also just get lost in the shuffle of real-time cooperative games we have in our collection.

(to be continued)
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