Spiel @ Essen. What is it all about?

In 2 weeks time the doors open at the Messe in Essen for Spiel ’16. So much to do, so little time. What is it all about?

International Spieltage mit Comic Action (it’s official name) is a 4 day event where you can try out some new boardgames, meet designers, friends and maybe buy a game or two!

Wow! What is so good about that? Well I shall tell you!

It is big, no it is bigger than that, it is huge, massive! It keeps on getting bigger every year. It attracts around 150,000 visitors each year, it is THAT big! It is so big and well known, everyone in the hobby just calls it Essen. ‘Are you going to Essen this year?’


Essen has a large Messe, or Trade fair ground. There are a lot of them in Germany and Essen is by no means the biggest, but is big at around 120,000 square metres. The fair takes up approximately two thirds of the available space, partitioning the unused halls off from the public, but each year it keeps getting that big bigger and spreading into new halls!

When I got into gaming in 2006, a friend told me that I should go to Essen once, but after I do, I will want to go back every year. My first Essen was in 2007 and I have not missed one since. A well know game designer, Martin Wallace, back then lived in the Manchester area and we often playtested his games at the games clubs we went to and through him I ended up going to Essen. I also ended up working on the Treefrog (or Warfrog as it was then) stand at Essen and continued to do so until Treefrog decided to stop publishing games at the end of 2015. However I have found a new home for this year.

So I go to Germany and demo games? What is so good about that? Well I don’t just demo games, I only do that part of the time. The rest of the time I get to see the show. There are hundreds of new games and I do mean hundreds. A lot of stands will be showcasing their new game(s) and there may be a table where you can get a demo of the game, or with the bigger publishers many tables!


Well most of these games will turn up in the Boardgame shops in (insert the country where you live here) right?

Wrong! The larger companies like like 2F, AEG, CGE etc will more likely than not get their games to a shop near you – eventually, but there are a lot of smaller publishers that don’t have distribution deals and the only time you will see the game is at Essen, so it may be the only time you get to see and buy the game. This has happened many times. One example a game called SteamRollers (which I reviewed recently) that was exclusive to Essen 2015 and was not available elsewhere, another example is Area 1851 which has only just hit the shops in the UK almost 12 months after you could have picked it up at the show.

To me this is one of the things I love about Essen. Working on the stand I get to chat to people and they tell me what to look out for as sometimes several publishers share one small booth and you miss their game. Chatting to other people from all over the world is great fun and you get to meet so many cool people.

One thing to be aware of though is that it is busy and on Saturday, really busy. If there is a game you want to try out, you might need to be one of the first through the doors and head straight to the booth to grab a table to try a game, otherwise you may have a long wait. First thing on Thursday can be hectic too if a game with high demand is in limited supply and there is a big rush to get to the booth of the company to get one of the few copies of the game available that might not be seen again for another 6 months although I can’t remember a game with such a buzz in the last couple of years.


Essen isn’t just about the games though. (What?!) It is the experience. I have had my own experiences over the years. For those who don’t know me personally, I live in Manchester in the UK. I have drove to Essen every year but one. The drive to Harwich from Manchester is far longer than the drive to Essen from the Hook of Holland! With 2 people in the car the cost is similar to flying with the advantage of not worrying about luggage, well actually no, that is a lie, there has been issues in the past where we struggled to get all the games in the car!! The drive has always been fun and I have been lucky enough to have had good company on each trip.

Then there is the hotel in the evening! Either going to the pub/restaurant to get tea and beer or getting take away and having it in the hotel. It is a chance to spend time with people who I only see once a year. Martin and Julia Wallace block book a hotel close to the Messe and then allocate the rooms, which means it is the usual suspects most years. People from as far and wide as New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Belgium, Denmark and one or two Brits. There are people who live in the UK who I only see at Essen once a year. Games get played and talked about, more beer flows….

Then on Saturday night it is Whisky night!

Oddly enough demos on Sunday are not as efficient as the previous 3 days. I can’t quite put my finger on why…



One thought on “Spiel @ Essen. What is it all about?

  1. I’m simultaneously stressed and looking forward to the experience; the more I read, the better it sounds. I suspect I’m going to be incredibly tired by Sunday and glad that I’m not the one doing the driving…

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