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Subject: First time Essen, first impression, first ideas for improvement rss

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Ben Verhaevert
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This year I went for the first time to Spiel. We (my wife and I) stayed at the Atlantic Congres Hotel. A new very modern hotel close to the Messe (only 2 minutes walk to Eingang Ost). This came in very handy to deposit some of the games I bought and not having to carry them aroubnd all day.

I read about the qeueing lines on thursdag (apparently up to 1.5 hours) so I was prepared to do some waiting but at 9 o'clock, just in front of Eingang Ost I was able to buy a 3 daytickets (sat & sun) without having to wait one moment.

I got in, read and talked a bit and by 10 the doors were opened. It was like opening a champagnebottle. The crowd dashed in, dispersing in all directions. Seats and tables were taken and very soon (about 10 minutes gone) no table was left empty.

Since I got some preorders (Norenberc, Pied Piper, Grand Cru, Mousquetaires, Troyes, Key Market) I decided to get those first so I could be stressfree for the rest of the week-end.
It took me about 1.5 hours to get to all these booths, collecting my pre-orders. By noon the crowd was really dense and it was hard to pass by, even in the gangways when you're fully packed.
Besides some of my fellow visitors were dragging trolleys or huge backpacks with them hindering ongoing traffic in such a way that even a policeman would have it difficult to untangle those roadblocks. (perhaps the designer of roadblocks got his idea on an earlier version of Spiel)

After depositing my loot back in the hotel I went in again to find that it was just overwhelming : the crowd, the games, the diversity, the prices. I read somewhere there were more than 650 new games. How in he world can all these be "excellent" even "good" games.
Is it just because gaming is a booming market that everybody wants a piece of the cake? There are so many "niches" in the gaming industryu that comparing games even becomes a hazardous question.

I tried to sit down for some gaming but all the games I was interested in had
1) not enough demotables
2) too many people wanting to testplay
3) too many people occupying tables for hours in a row.

Here's a first suggestion : perhaps publishers could be persuaded to have at least 5 demo tables for their "top release". Now we had Mousquetaires with 3 demo tables. The same number for Dakota, Vinhos, Grand Cru. Some were even below 3 s.a. Key Market (1) Magnum Sal (1) or Toyes (2).

Second suggestion : limit playing time to 1 hour max. This would men that starting out at 10 until 19 you could get 9 groups playing in one day. This times 5 tables would mean some 50 people could get a play. On 4 days this would still be only 200 people which is really peanuts compared to the 154.000 visitors but I think it would still be a huge increase as to the number that is plaing now. I think 1 hour playing should give every player a "feel" of what the games is like and whether he would consider buying it.

Though the organiser did take some care at grouping the themes (hall 6 was mainly the LARP/RPG hall) you alway found some "hidden gems". Even in the commics section, boardgames were available without having anything to do with comics.
A better grouping af themes could reduce the strain on some halls.

Each publisher had it's own "demo-space" so in order to play you had to walk around quite a bit.Even within his demo space most publishers had games "attached" to some table so sitting down on table A meant you played game A, like it or not.
Third suggestion : why not make a "spiel - halle" where all the gaming is done. Even then you could appoint some room in this 1 or 2 halls to the publishers but the gamers would be much closer together whereas for the publisher the selling of games and the reception of potential good designers could be better organised.

So I walked around the aftenoon, checking out the games I might try to play on sunday, talking to a lot of people in the bussiness on how their inpression of Spiel 2010 was and what they tought would be the future of boardgaming.

By 18.30 I had seen enough and went back to the Hotel.

Next day we decided to go in by 10.15 so that the bunch was already gone. My wife, being a teacher; was much interested by "learning games" Of course HABA was a must but even besides this we discovered quite some games that could be used and usefull in a school or teaching surrounding s.a. take it easy, ubongo or summy f.i.

Once again the crowd was enourmous. You got people playing eveywhere even when this meant blocking pathways. That made me wonder what would ever happen in case of a fire. A lot of the stuff sold is very firesensitive (being paper and cardboard) and then having people blocking exits is not a good combination. What I was surprised of as well, I saw very little to none security people. Apparantly gamers are a peacefull type of people, trying to settle the scores on the gameboard instead of knocking each other out. Talking about an exemple.

The day went by still without playing and by 3 in the afternood we called it a day, having a 2.5 hour drive before us.

The car full, the wallet nearly empty I brouht back this loot to Belgium : Mousquetaires, Grand Cru, Dakota, NBA All Stars, Jerusalem, Key Market, Norenberc, Rattus Pied Pieper, Macao, Era of Inventions, TRoyes, Magnum Sal, De Vulgari Eloquentia, Forbidden Islands, Castello, Ubongo, Take it Higher and captain Jack's Gold as a birthdaypresent for my nephew.

As to the hotel : excellent and expensive. The room was superb, the facilities as well.
But a breakfast, though very lavish, for 22 € pro person and a parking fee of 24 € for 30 hours didn't go down that well.
But if you're planning on buying a lot af games, it is the easiest way to store them all, without your arms stretching up 5 cm from all the carying around.
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Emile de Maat
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I agree that getting a table to test a game can be quite difficult (and annoying). My friends and I have also spent some time thinking of possibilities to make this smoother (usually resulting in infeasible reservation systems with elaborate technical support )

ontwaken wrote:
I read somewhere there were more than 650 new games. How in he world can all these be "excellent" even "good" games.
Is it just because gaming is a booming market that everybody wants a piece of the cake? There are so many "niches" in the gaming industryu that comparing games even becomes a hazardous question.

Well, of course there are many who would want a piece of the cake. And I suspect there's a public for many of these games.

ontwaken wrote:
Here's a first suggestion : perhaps publishers could be persuaded to have at least 5 demo tables for their "top release". Now we had Mousquetaires with 3 demo tables. The same number for Dakota, Vinhos, Grand Cru. Some were even below 3 s.a. Key Market (1) Magnum Sal (1) or Toyes (2).

I think most publishers already reserve more tables for their top releases. They simply have to make do with the amount of space they have. The small stand of Troyes hardly accomodates three tables, leave alone five.

ontwaken wrote:
Second suggestion : limit playing time to 1 hour max. This would men that starting out at 10 until 19 you could get 9 groups playing in one day. This times 5 tables would mean some 50 people could get a play. On 4 days this would still be only 200 people which is really peanuts compared to the 154.000 visitors but I think it would still be a huge increase as to the number that is plaing now. I think 1 hour playing should give every player a "feel" of what the games is like and whether he would consider buying it.

I'm afraid I don't agree with you here. For some games, I really want to see the end (as the way a game ends can mean a lot for whether or not I enjoy playing it), which means I'd like to complete the game.

ontwaken wrote:
Though the organiser did take some care at grouping the themes (hall 6 was mainly the LARP/RPG hall) you alway found some "hidden gems". Even in the commics section, boardgames were available without having anything to do with comics.
A better grouping af themes could reduce the strain on some halls.

I guess this is a matter of space again. If there's space left in the comic hall, and there is no additional comic shop to fill it, but there is a boardgame stand to fill it, then it seems better to place the boardgame stand there than to leave the spot empty (and refuse the boardgame stand).

ontwaken wrote:
Each publisher had it's own "demo-space" so in order to play you had to walk around quite a bit.Even within his demo space most publishers had games "attached" to some table so sitting down on table A meant you played game A, like it or not.

This annoys me too, sometimes. But again, I think the publishers have a good reason for this as well: it ensures that each game is visible. For example, White Goblin Games had four tables, each with a "fixed" game: Inca Empire, Khan, Norenberc and Rattus. If you'd remove on in favour of the other, then the other game would not longer be displayed, which probably isn't good.
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George Leach
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I don't believe there is some greater force organising where each 'genre' of publisher goes, only by what they pay and allow publishers to first option to pay for where they were the previous year. I believe the Hall 4 second hand stalls and Hall 6 LARPers have simply coalesced over time. These are the furthest halls from the entrance and so are likely to have to pay the least for their space, however they are niches.

The fair should make available a larger portion of the hall spaces and open up another entrance, the queueing on Thursday was atrocious and the lack of table space to testplay is hurting the experience for me. If new halls were to be opened and stands were allowed to expand they would be able to offer more tables, wider gangways and improve the whole feel of the fair. Having said all that there are quieter times, certainly by Sunday afternoon the halls are getting very quiet and minor deals can be found.

In terms of groups sitting at a table for hours on end. The issue is again related to finding tables to play on. If you cannot be sure you'll find a table at a different stand over the whole day after getting up, then why would you leave if there are still options to play? I find it frustrating as an English only speaker to find Rio Grande tables taken up by Germans when the very same games are being demoed at much larger gaming spaces with a greater turnover in their native language.
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Stef Pauwels
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Ooops wrote:
ontwaken wrote:
What I was surprised of as well, I saw very little to none security people. Apparantly gamers are a peacefull type of people, trying to settle the scores on the gameboard instead of knocking each other out. Talking about an exemple.



This surprised me as well. I mean, I could have *stolen* tens of games from the shops there if I was dishonest. There were so many people in the shops and so few shop attendants that it would have been really easy. You could also enter the messe for free in the afternoon (they attached a bracelet to my wrist when I came out at noon to put loot into my car, but they didn't ask me to show it when I returned.


Heh, I almost did this accidentally. I was talking to Uwe Eickert but he needed to leave for a meeting soon. I wanted a signed copy of his latest release, COH: Price of Honour, so he took one of the shelve and signed it with a message. After some smalltalk I thanked him and said goodbye, since he was running late for his meeting. I was already on my way to the next booth with the game box in my bag when I knew what I had forgotten. I returned and asked Uwe where I could pay for the game

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Christopher Dearlove
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ontwaken wrote:
Here's a first suggestion : perhaps publishers could be persuaded to have at least 5 demo tables for their "top release".


Tables (stand space) cost money. Companies take stands according to either what they can afford, or what is economic.

Quote:
Second suggestion : limit playing time to 1 hour max.


Some do something like that. Some let you play a whole game. For some the two are the same. For those that don't, they probably think what they do works for them. I'm hesitant to suggest I know better than companies how to run their business, and I've been going for about 16 years. But the stand I was on on Saturday managed time allowed according to demand.
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Shane Bennett
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ontwaken wrote:

It took me about 1.5 hours to get to all these booths, collecting my pre-orders. By noon the crowd was really dense and it was hard to pass by, even in the gangways when you're fully packed.
Besides some of my fellow visitors were dragging trolleys or huge backpacks with them hindering ongoing traffic in such a way that even a policeman would have it difficult to untangle those roadblocks. (perhaps the designer of roadblocks got his idea on an earlier version of Spiel)


Yeah I did the same thing it was so much of a hassle to carry the games around because the crowd was so thick. The trolleys and extra extra large rucksacks constantly hitting me in the face got annoying real quick.

ontwaken wrote:

Second suggestion : limit playing time to 1 hour max. This would men that starting out at 10 until 19 you could get 9 groups playing in one day. This times 5 tables would mean some 50 people could get a play. On 4 days this would still be only 200 people which is really peanuts compared to the 154.000 visitors but I think it would still be a huge increase as to the number that is plaing now. I think 1 hour playing should give every player a "feel" of what the games is like and whether he would consider buying it.


I agree with your suggestion it really needs to be limited to a few turns your not there to compete or see who wins you just want a flavor of how the game plays. I think if you need a more in depth demo you probably should go to your FLGS to get a more in depth play of the game or just buy it out right and then trade it on the Geek if you don't like it, your not buying a car the investment isn't going to kill you.

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Steve Duff
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I really agree with the time limit. In two full days (18 hours), we got a measly 3 game play sessions in totalling about 4 hours - a few turns of Era of Inventions for an hour, same thing with First Train to Nuremberg, and a full game of K2 for about 90 minutes, since the group who let me join in with them for the game didn't want to quit.

I'd estimate there was easily 10 or so hours we spent waiting for tables to open, or wandering around looking for tables that might be open soon. We spent an hour hanging around a table for Norenberc that was mid-game, then finally gave up when it was clear the guys playing were easily going to be there for at least *another* hour. At that point, it's just selfish.

An hour or so is more than enough to play the game to get the feel of it. If you want to see how the game ends, play the first few rounds, then jump straight to the final round to see how end game scoring etc works.
 
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J C Lawrence
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
In hour or so is more than enough to play the game to get the feel of it. If you want to see how the game ends, play the first few rounds, then jump straight to the final round to see how end game scoring etc works.


This assumes that there are no significant inflection points in the middle of the game, past your cut-off point. That's not true for many of the games I prefer, several of which contain multiple fundamental inflection points at and after which, well, everything is different.
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Steve K
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There's no easy answer, although publishers should give some thought towards having a "short version" for demo plays.

Personally, I haven't got the patience to wait for more than a few minutes. Having pre-booked slots is good - especially since everyone then knows they've got (maybe) 2 hours & no more. Other than that, I tend to opportunistically jump on tables where a game looks sufficiently interesting, with the word "sufficiently" often being dependent on how much I'd like a sit down.

Playing longer games outside Spiel itself - in hotels, also works for me.

For every person who would like to limit games to partial plays, there is another who visits Spiel to play entire games.
 
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Mik Svellov
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Ooops wrote:
ontwaken wrote:
What I was surprised of as well, I saw very little to none security people. Apparantly gamers are a peacefull type of people, trying to settle the scores on the gameboard instead of knocking each other out. Talking about an exemple.


This surprised me as well. I mean, I could have *stolen* tens of games from the shops there if I was dishonest.

People steal from most normal shops very easily anyway.
However, inside the halls it is actually very easy to get detected and extremely difficult to run away once noticed - as a thief discovered some years ago when he stole money from till of Warfrog.
 
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Mik Svellov
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SteveK2 wrote:
For every person who would like to limit games to partial plays, there is another who visits Spiel to play entire games.
And it is also the historic reason for shows existence: it was created by Friedhelm Merz in order to give the local population a chance to play out the new games in time for Christmas shopping. And to a large extend, this is still why people come.
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Joseph Cochran
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Honestly, you have to look at Essen for what it is, not what you want it to be.

Think about conventions you go to: in the US you can go to Origins or Gencon or BGG.CON, and at all of them you can play games, but each of them has their own character, and what you do between games is far different at each. Essen is yet another flavor of con. It's not going to be to everyone's tastes because it's kind of like dealer's hall and con all smushed into one and thus it's geared for both sales and demos.

As long as you know that going in and set your expectations appropriately, you can get a lot out of it. I don't go in expecting to play more than a few games or so over the course of the weekend: what I DO expect is to see how new games play (yes, even if that means looking over someone's shoulder while they're playing in German), talk to designers and publishers, browse new and old games, get a ton of cool stuff and new games before anyone else, and travel. In those areas, I've been completely satisfied.

I don't see Essen changing to fit what other conventions do; my suggestion to anyone going is to avoid setting expectations based on other events you've attended, and enjoy it for what it is.
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Jörg Hopfgarten
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Quote:
I don't see Essen changing to fit what other conventions do; my suggestion to anyone going is to avoid setting expectations based on other events you've attended, and enjoy it for what it is.


Very well said!
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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ontwaken wrote:
... It took me about 1.5 hours to get to all these booths, collecting my pre-orders. ...

This is your first Spiel, and that is always overwhelming. With multiple visits you'll get to know the layout of the halls better; it also helps tremendously that stands return to approximately the same spot every year. I could have managed your shopping list in about 20 to 25 minutes, assuming no long queues at the booths for purchasing things. (Even now, two weeks after Spiel, I can draw you a map where you should have gone to from memory. I know, that's geekness in optima forma.)

ontwaken wrote:
... How in he world can all these be "excellent" even "good" games. ...

They aren't. There's only a tiny handful of excellent titles, a somewhat larger selection of good titles, and the rest will have been forgotten within the next two years or so. It pays to keep your gaming purchases in check for the next year(s), when many titles return to dunp stands and you can purchase them cheap.

ontwaken wrote:
...I tried to sit down for some gaming but all the games I was interested in had
1) not enough demotables
2) too many people wanting to testplay
3) too many people occupying tables for hours in a row. ...

That is basically Spiel. It will not ever get better simply because many publishers don't want to spend more money on floor space. And yes, that is frustrating. I concur things were tighter than I've seen in previous years, but still I managed a lot of play time (see below). Flexibility, knowing when games will end (from reading the rules, or asking an explainer), asking if alternative tables are available, setting up table swaps, everything helps. Don't stand around. If it means playing a game lower on your to try-list: play it! It's better than not doing anything at all.

ontwaken wrote:
... Third suggestion : why not make a "spiel - halle" where all the gaming is done. ...

Spiel is not a gaming fair. It's a trade fair, open to the general public. The main purpose is to present games to the visitors, and to allow the industry people to meet and make deals and such. Its purpose is not to provide the visitors with a huge game library.

ontwaken wrote:
... That made me wonder what would ever happen in case of a fire. ...

Me too. Always keep in mind where the nearest (fire) exit is!

jugular wrote:
I find it frustrating as an English only speaker to find Rio Grande tables taken up by Germans when the very same games are being demoed at much larger gaming spaces with a greater turnover in their native language.

A few years ago I and others had the audacity to walk into a near-empty RGG stand and greet the explainers in German. I was then sent away for speaking German too well (despite obviously not being a native of Germany) and thus able to understand the explanation of the games elsewhere. It didn't matter I spoke English even better than German.

UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
I really agree with the time limit. In two full days (18 hours), we got a measly 3 game play sessions in totalling about 4 hours - a few turns of Era of Inventions for an hour, same thing with First Train to Nuremberg, and a full game of K2 for about 90 minutes, since the group who let me join in with them for the game didn't want to quit.

I was there for three days. I got 19 sessions in, playing for about 18 hours, I think. I left one hour before closing time on Sunday; and I lost about three to four hours with eating, going to the bathrooms, and to and from to my car to deposit the games as well as to get a breath of fresh air. I apologise for hogging the tables...

Quote:
I'd estimate there was easily 10 or so hours we spent waiting for tables to open, or wandering around looking for tables that might be open soon. We spent an hour hanging around a table for Norenberc that was mid-game, then finally gave up when it was clear the guys playing were easily going to be there for at least *another* hour. At that point, it's just selfish.

Yes, this happened with me too. This is highly annoying, especially if the players are inflicted with AP. Sometimes Lady Luck doesn't smile upon you. Sometimes she does. I find it helps to have a good list of possible games to play, and to limit the must-plays.

Quote:
An hour or so is more than enough to play the game to get the feel of it. If you want to see how the game ends, play the first few rounds, then jump straight to the final round to see how end game scoring etc works.

In some cases the explanation can take up a sizable chunk of that hour, and then it is basically a waste of everyone's time to send people away after the hour is up.
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Violet Edgar
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cymric wrote:
and I lost about three to four hours with eating, going to the bathrooms, and to and from to my car to deposit the games as well as to get a breath of fresh air.


Don't forget, the Garderobe is your friend. Don't hesitate to drop your bags full of loot off at the wardrobe and pick them up and the end of the day.
 
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Violet Edgar
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This was my third year at Essen, and I still feel like I have a lot to learn about how to make the most of the trip. This year I felt like I did a much better job of preparing myself mentally by making lists and spreadsheets of all the booths. I will be doing this next year as well, and hopefully I can take what I learned this year into account when making the lists.
Also, I only just feel like I've gotten a good feel for the layout of the halls, as well as the best way to get from hall to hall. It's important to learn all the shortcuts, such as the inner atrium ("Freigelände"), the back door to the Hall 4A bathroom that you can reach from either the atrium or the back of Hall 5, cutting through the restaurant to get from hall 10/11 to the garderobe and exit, and so on. These shortcuts can save you a lot of time, and help a lot if you have a lot of preorders to pick up or that one limited-edition game that you have to get to before it sells out 15 minutes after they open (for me it was Civilization).
Also, if you are with a group, sometimes it can be a good idea to split up, as you are more likely to be able to hop into a game demo with another group if you are alone. That way, you can cover more ground as well.

Again, after only three Essens, I still feel like a total n00b, but I hope that I can do what I can to help make your next trip feel like more of a success. Final tip: Wear comfortable shoes, and stay hydrated!
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