You have to keep in mind that Saturday and Sunday are much more crowded than other days. Getting a seat at specific games will be difficult.
If you're just looking to immerse yourself in the experience then it may be worth it.
If you're planning to check out specific games then you'll have to fight hard for those places and might be disappointed. You could still try to check them out in the evening gaming sessions, though. Also, like Eddy said, if you're going to buy games you need to understand the situation. Many of the more hyped games will be gone by that time unless you preorder. And the heavy discounts might not start before you have to leave again.
Also from a traveling point of view I strongly recommend choosing a transport option that lets you sleep and relax or you're going to be toast by Sunday evening. A show like Essen can be pretty taxing, especially if you have to fight your way through the Sat/Sun hordes.
I'll only be there on Friday and Saturday, too, I think, and it's going to be definitely worth it for me. I'm not getting there from England, of course, but people are doing trips like this, London for a weekend, too, so why not? If you're a boardgame geek, then going to Essen is probably more interesting than visiting one of the capitals over the weekend.
I'm not bothered about the cost really, its only a short hop over, and its more about the fun I'd get out of it. How long does the convention run, if I arrived at 8pm would it be dead as a door nail or would it be still in full swing?
I think I'll just have to take a punt and see, I can't go this year anyway so it wouldnt be till next year.
The alternative is Gencon, but I'd peg a trip to the US + all the extras as kicking in around the 2k mark
if I arrived at 8pm would it be dead as a door nail or would it be still in full swing?
It's not really a convention, more a trade show, and you'd find the doors closed at 8pm.
There would be little pockets of gaming going on, all spread out over dozens of hotels, both in Essen and nearby towns.
They open the flood gates at 10 am and close the halls at 7 pm (6 pm on Sunday).
As I recall lots of people leave a bit early (probably to avoid the subway rush) so I guess they probably would be finished with dinner a bit earlier too. I'd still expect 8 pm to be a bit early for gaming unless folks are skipping dinner or go for snacks / junk food.
Is it worth it? I assume that you have never visited Essen Spiel before so you will be completely unprepared for the moment you walk in through the main doors! Just for that experience alone it is worth it!!!!
Most of my visits have been 2 day ones, arriving Wedenesday ( a bit of sightseeing and an evening of gaming), visiting the show on Thursday and Friday (leaving the how early to catch return flight to the UK). I'll leave others to answer what it is like to visit the show at weekends, but for a 2 day visit it is worth every single minute! A group of us even went over for a single day a few years back - but arriving at the Spiel around 1100 and leaving for the airport at 1600 meant that we had to have an VERY good list of games to buy ordered by booth number! I don't think I would do a single day trip again as it felt like a supermarket trolley dash and missed out the beer, food, beer, games and beer!
Check out some of the YouTube videos to see what the halls look like and the sort of things you can expect.
You won't regret it. I went for two days in 2011, wasn't feeling well, and I still have a lot of great memories and a little cache of things I collected and inspiration to carry me forward. So, go on ahead, try to have a little bit of a plan (because nobody can really see it all), and have fun!
I've only ever been on the Saturday and Sunday myself for the same reasons (I'm a teacher, so can't get the Friday off), but this will be my fourth, so I think it's worth it too...
I fly from London to Dusseldorf and catch the train, usually am in Essen by 9:00 p.m. which is time to both have dinner with gaming friends and still get in a few rounds of games at one of the hotels, and chat with people about what to get the next morning (I also spend a lot of time on Thursday and Friday reading the geek and looking at the Geekbuzz system to see what people are rating, and am reading rulesets of favourites on the plane...)
Then, I make sure I'm at the con about an hour early so I'm one of the first in on Saturday morning so I can check out the hottest games before it gets too crowded (there's about a 30 minute window at the beginning before the place completely fills up - my recommendation - go to the back and work your way forwards.
As for getting table space, I've never NOT gotten onto a table if I really wanted to try a game out - you just need to be patient. (The longest I waited was I think 45 minutes to get a spin at Trajan, which I was glad I did... and Sunday morning first thing is a good time to get a seat at the busier tables (or if you're happy to leave it, Sunday after 2 or 3 when the crowd starts to thin out)