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Subject: After the SPIEL is before the SPIEL - Essen 2015 rss

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Martina Frohme
Germany
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After the SPIEL is before the SPIEL – Day #1: Scouting and Looting

It’s all over! Oh-my-God-what-am-I-going-to-do now that the SPIEL is over-? My flat is cluttered, my budget is down, my feet hurt, all my T-shirts have gone smelly and I cannot find my life - you know, that basically profane alternative form of existence I used to have before the SPIEL – under that avalanche of leaflets that spilled out of my trouser pockets when I came home last night…

Sounds familiar? Rest assured, after the SPIEL is also before the SPIEL. All you have to do is keep your spirits up until the next time, and meanwhile you can calm your nerves punching cardboard tokens and keep sharp by playing all the games you bought.

About keeping your spirits up: Isn’t it uplifting that there are so incredibly many people of all ages, sizes and nationalities who congregate in one place because they share the love of gaming? Playing board games, card games or roleplaying is a social activity which is highly cooperative, intelligent, communicative and also absolutely peaceful, because, whatever critics may try to tell you, wound tokens, loss of life points, and latex swords never killed or even hurt anybody, and when you die, you do not end up in a wooden box, but one made of cardboard, and will be resurrected at your next gaming session. What could be more positive?

And yes, of course the fair is about commerce. There is nothing wrong with that. People have original creative and artistic ideas they shape into something that will entertain and bring hours of pure joy to many, many others. What a beautiful way to make a living. And those who cannot (yet) live off their creativity, they also deserve our love and respect for what they are contributing to our lives. For their ideas and products they do deserve the money of all those willing buyers, too. So do the traders. (As long as they calculate fair prices that ensure value for money, of course.)

The SPIEL, one of the largest fairs of its kind worldwide, provides a huge platform not only for selling and buying old and new games but also for ideas and information concerning the gaming world.

Our gaming guild Dice & Mystics (check us out on BoardGameGeek) is present with five members from Recklinghausen, Bochum and Frankfurt in Germany, and one from Belgium who is staying over for the SPIEL. We have a set budget, a strategically water-tight plan of to-dos and a list of items pre-ordered or to be acquired. Planning ahead is a must if you are going to visit the SPIEL. After our Wednesday gaming night (Blood Rage-! Yay!) we set out early, equipped with all necessary maps, cash and credit cards and go straight to the south entrance. If you are an “early bird” at the SPIEL, there will be enough spaces in the car park close to the entrance, you will be allowed into the foyer for coffee and snacks by, say, 8.45 or 9.00 o’clock and you can even have a sit at one of the tables before everybody else arrives, which will be shortly after. If you are planning to hit the inner section of the Heidelberger booth and the long queue that will be forming there, however, it is wise to secure your place in front of the huge crowd that will be positioning itself directly at the gates for the rush into Hall 1. Like in previous years, free copies of the SPIEL ‘15 special edition of the magazine spielbox are distributed (as will be done on all four days), so you have something to read while you wait. There are 8 pages witch a checklist of all new game releases at the SPIEL. Each copy contains goodies: a small standalone game, vouchers for a few reductions plus free promo, a competition and special cards for one out of three different card/card based games. Officially the fair is due to open at 10.00 o’clock, but they will usually open up between 10 or 20 minutes earlier, supposedly to take some pressure off. A noise like a giant wave rippling through the crowd indicates that it is time.

While meandering through the layout of Halls 1, 2, the Gallery, and Halls 3 and 7 we get our bearings, take in first impressions and collect the first of our pre-ordered games from the respective booths:

Mysterium
Takenoko
Takenoko Chibis
7 Ronin

Next we jump at the opportunity to try out Dragon Farkle, there is an empty table. The demonstrator seems to be full of glee at the chance to present his game to a new audience. We soon see why. That little card based game with its beautiful little dragon standee is absolutely loveable and great fun. It jumps onto our to buy list and gets ticked off immediately. Our vocabulary has been enriched by the regular verb “to farkle” which is from now on going to replace to “fudge up”. I am sure there will be other uses for the word, like I’d like to see a dragon set a light to a farkle. Dragon Farkle really is a hidden box of delights and we are glad we lifted the lid.

We get to try out Sator… (pre-ordered) on the spot. The beautifully “atmospheric” booth provides the perfect surroundings to immerse in this elegant game. The artist of the game is also the publisher and all of the people who run the booth at the SPIEL. It takes a great deal of dedication and stamina, and apparently he possesses both. The strain shows on him but the multi-tasking genius manages to do several things simultaneously and competently, still we would not necessarily like to be in his boots. We admire the box which looks like some huge leather bound volume and when we ask about it we learn that one like the decorative handmade box of wood and real leather on display could also be ours for about € 200. This is too costly, although the thought in itself is tantalizing and the price is absolutely justified, as it would all be hand crafted by the artist himself.

The game begins: Books in different colours are positioned on the board. We place our geometric shapes – that represent paths through a library – on the board, taking turns, and next we need to move or rotate those pieces to clear a path for our librarian minis to reach the books of their colour – or, of course, hinder our oponents. It sounds simple and is, indeed, easy to learn. The rules as such are few. When we are left to ourselves because other prospective buyers want information we are already able to play independently, a few asides correct us whenever we err. The game itself proves an intellectually challenging, ever changing puzzle that captures us completely. We are happy to have pre-ordered and ready to move on, following our schedule.

Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas: Malleus MaleficarumCelestia
Cyclades
Cyclades: Hades
Cyclades: Titans
Cyclades: The Manticore
Cyclades: Hecate
Dragon Farkle

A friend who crosses our way enthuses about

Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg

and thus they all get ticked off our list and brought away for storage in the boot of our car. And yes, you can leave for the outside and come back in afterwards, but you need to actually ask for one of these identification armbands you will know from other fairs. We wish we had known about that last year.

On the way we make a point to brush by the Dice Tower booth in Hall 7 to see and shake hands with Tom Vasel, Eric Summerer and Zee Garcia to tell them how much we enjoy their shows and how precious the information they provide is to us. We are devoted fans of what they are doing. My, here they are, actual life size – and as a laughing Tom Vasel quotes one of his other fans - also “ in 3D”. I answer him that, to my own surprise, I do feel quite shaken to actually look them in the eyes as real life characters because I am so used to them being minis about 12 inches tall and living inside a black square box. The Arcadia Quest mini “Tomrick” we purchase at the booth is even smaller than that, but there is absolutely no way of denying who he is supposed to represent. (Proceeds go to the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund for gamers in need.)

We also buy one of the special foldable ”Dice Tower” branded dice towers and each of our members gets a ticket for the show in the afternoon.: It is the second time the Dice Tower team are at the SPIEL, and it is going to be their first show from Essen. The tickets are free but limited to 150 places only, a number which later proves way, way too small for the crowd of fans who would just love to attend. As a consequence, the Dice Tower crew will try to get a larger room the next time in 2016.

(Hey, they will be here again! And do their second show! I got to shout my “Shut the door!” together with the 149 others. Aaach, all will be well again… My after SPIEL depression is easing down a little.)

It won’t have been the last time we talk to or bump into the Dice Tower guys whizzing through the halls. Especially Mr. Garcia appears to have several in-built sets of high energy batteries the way he scouts the SPIEL, always looking fresh like a morning in spring… We do not know how he does it. And he always takes his time to exchange a few words. Towards the end of the first day, us average human beings are all feeling our feet in a most unpleasant way.

Just round the corner there is the Board Game Geek area where there are live interviews going on throughout the SPIEL. We feel a surreal pang of regret that, being physically present at the SPIEL, we cannot lean back in our chairs and enjoy all those live shows with a bag of crisps and a drink at our elbow. The blue tornado that rocketed past us just a moment ago may or may not have been Beth Heile. The BoadGameGeek booth is humming with activity. We check out where we can get our code cards for the Geek Buzz. Easy-peasy, but of course actually rating any games is strictly for the very last day, because we have got to see/buy/try them first, right? The first day, however, is reserved for scouting and looting only.

Our planning has been to good effect, all in all we bag only bargains. Fair prices are fair prices, if you get the double meaning here, and even if they are often a bit higher than retail prices, the goodies or extra promos and the absence of shipping costs make more than up for that, so at the bottom line both sides reach a win-win situation. But you need to be well informed to realize a bargain when you see one.

If you want to get off your feet, you have to try and get an open slot at a trial game somewhere. That, however, is easier said than done. There are many people sitting together playing trial sessions or partaking in demonstrations, but more of us cannot get a foot in the door. We start some futile attempts at getting to play the new Conan board game (Full in on Kickstarter!), T.I.M.E. Stories, The 7th Continent (Also full in, with an early bird, too.) – but they are full up until Sunday night already.

Then at 4 p. m. it is time for the Dice Tower show. We are under the impression Tom told us it would be upstairs. The official information tells us it will be downstairs in Room L. So we go there. We are half an hour early, some live stream is in progress. As we are sitting down in a waiting area, it turns out that the electronic board shows up the Dice Tower event – one storey down in a different room than that we had been sent to. We hurry up and manage to grab some seats in the 3rd row.



Jason Levine is late. We exchange meaningful glances: What if he, too, asked the information for directions…? Tom Vasel puts his red hat in his place. We get to shout “Shut the door!” for starters. One, two, three: “SHUT!!! THE!!! DOOR!!!” Wow! If Tom had worn his hat it would have been blown away. The crowd is encouraged to do it again, everybody in their own language. One, two, three: The sound that follows is equal in volume, but might as well have been in Klingon, a noise like nothing on this planet; the SPIEL is international indeed. The audience is being praised for its punctuality. When Eric Summerer gives the signal and speaks the first words of the broadcast, we are already grinning quite happily. Jason Levine turns up, he has indeed had problems finding the right room. Half an hour of programme with talks and interviews and a lot of fun and merriment passes, then half an hour of questions and answers. Our expectations have been more than met, these guys are real pros who really love what they are doing. However, no singing this time. Tom says he almost regrets having started that thing in the first place – merciless laughter from most seats - and that they are trying to make every show different, but the audience let on that they would not have minded some musical interlude. We are looking forward to the broadcast of “our” show already.


After the SPIEL closes its gates for the day, Dice & Mystics gather for an international “eat and greet” at a nearby diner over burgers, onion rings and drivers’ cocktails, together with newly found friends from several nations. Somehow the SPIEL had created contacts and acquaintances in its wake; tokens of friendship, cooking recipes (!) and games are exchanged across the table and thus across borders, French copies against copies in English. Mail addresses are exchanged between people who have just met. Communication between gamers coming together for the first time flow more easily than do talks between long time acquaintances who don’t share the board game passion. Soon there is a first hotlist of SPIEL ESSEN and we are blissfully discussing the things we like best, looking forward to Day #2…


Edit: typos; misleading phrase; incomplete link

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Alexander Urbanek
Germany
Bochum
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Hi! Thank you so much for your report. It revived my own impressions of all those wonderful and open minded people called board gamers! This convention is like a cooperative game by itself. Everybody shares victory and exciting moments!
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Ubergeek
United States
Washougal
Washington
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Be Happy in your Game!
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I spent 100 Geek Gold and all I got was this lousy overtext message!
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Excellent report. Thanks.
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Stéphane Scavée
Belgium
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This brings back memories
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