Spiel 2016 @ Essen – Stewart Reports

Spiel, Essen 2016.

It has to be said that this year was an unusual year, but not in a bad way.

As I mentioned in my previous articles there was no Treefrog stand that needed my assistance this year. However there was plenty of hands to help out at the Stratamax Games stand. A couple of us said that we would head over to Grey Fox as they were short of a couple of bodies.

There was no hiccups on the way to Harwich on the way out, unlike last year, and it was nice to have my usual travelling buddy along this year as he was no longer on crutches like last year, although the chap I travelled with last year was excellent company too. We met up with a few friends on the Ferry and found out what had caught their attention and compared notes.

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Lemme in! Lemme in!

We got to Essen incident free on Wednesday and took all the stuff we needed to the Stratamax booth. Got it set up nice and early and had a saunter around the halls looking at what was happening.

The layout had changed a bit – this will only make sense to those who have been before – All of Halls 1 and 3 were occupied by large booths, there was very few small booths there. A lot of the smaller ones that were in halls 1 and 3 in the past had been put into hall 2. Hall 4 was back to its former glory with the 2nd hand stalls all together at one end and the rest being filled with small publishers, most of halls 6 & 7 were full of smaller publishers too offering their weird and wonderful products.

Wednesday evening was spent catching up with old friends who were arriving at the hotel at different times in the evening and a big group of us headed out to the steak restaurant nearby and had a very nice meal indeed.

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Hard at work at the StrataMax Games booth playing Bavarian Holiday

The Thursday was an odd one for me as I had volunteered to do the full day at Grey Fox, so apart from the first hour before the doors opened I scurried off to Stronghold to grab a big order of games as I wanted a few of their games as did a couple of friends, so it was a sizeable order, €202. With such a big order you would have thought that they would discount the €2, but nope. Every penny counts I guess. However I didn’t get much chance to grab much else before the doors opened as we were told that the doors would open early due to safety reasons. There is often a bit of a crush so this is a regular occurrence.

I had a great time on the Grey Fox stand. I got to demo a game that I enjoyed so it was a real chore when a group of 3 people come to my table and I could act as a 4th. Before I knew it the day had gone. I got to meet some lovely new people and have a lot of fun. I also got to hear about London Dread more, which was a game I dismissed when I looked at it on the Spiel preview, but hearing more and more about it, it caught my attention, plus all the favourable comments I was hearing was catching my attention too.

In the evening we headed out to the Hausbrauerei. We had booked a table for 16 so we wouldn’t be getting turned away like we did the day before as it was full. The food is great. The beer is better and we usually order a barrel and this year was no exception, getting through a 24 litre barrel in about two and a half hours.

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The beer is flowing. Where is the food?

Friday I got to try a few games. I got to try Perfect Crime from Grublin that I had booked before I left for Germany. The theme did interest me a lot and there is a fair bit going on. We got a run through of the game and played a few turns to get a feel of the game and the different modes you can play it in, one against all, every man and woman for themselves or co-opertaively. There is a lot of theme there and was fun to try out. I met up with a couple of friends after that and had a slow walk around halls 4, 6 and 7. We tried Aurimentic from Nikamundus games which looked stunning, but after playing a few turns we thought it was a bit dull. We also gave Orphans & Ashes – The game of strategic orphan burning – a go. I thought the theme was hilarious but as it often is with these bad taste games, they are a bit rubbish and this was no exception. It was a bit too fiddly and overly complex for what you would have thought was a straightforward 2 player game. We then went to the TBD booth and tried Planet Defenders and it was very good indeed. On the next table they were demoing Round House which looked very interesting, so we booked a demo for Saturday to try it out.

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Perfect Crime from Grublin Games

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There is nothing wrong with setting fire to Orphans right?

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Aurimentic, looked impressive but that was as good as it gets.

After this it was time to meet up with my friend from Digidiced and headed out to Dortmund to watch the Borussia Dortmund v Hertha Berlin football match. This was the first time in 10 years of visiting Essen that I had actually left the vicinity of the Messe. We had a great night out, after the football match we met up with 2 more friends and got something to eat and drank our way through a metre of beer! They even told me about a game that they tried at Spiel that they liked, Sabordage, which sounded like my sort of thing.

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Almost 89,000 at Borussia Dortmund.

A combination of a bit of a lazy morning and good company meant that I didn’t get to the halls on Saturday until 1pm. I helped out at Stratamax for a few hours after running a couple of errands before heading off to TBD for the demo of Round House. This was fantastic. OK I had only tried a handful of games, but this was the star of the show so far for me. It was a Euro game that was using what I would describe as a double rondel system that was very neat indeed. Unfortunately it had already sold out so I couldn’t pick it up.

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Round House, best game I tried at the show.

Afterwards I headed off to try to get some of the games I had been hearing about, but not had chance to pick up like Feast of Odin, Captain Sonar and Railway Revolution but they had sold out by the time I got there, no real surprise, but they will turn up in the UK at some point if I fancy picking them up at a later date. I went to grab a copy of Argo from Flatlined Games and they were so impressed with the Steam Rollers review they asked me to review Argo for them. Bonus.

Saturday night is Whiskey night so most of us grabbed Pizza and started on the Whiskey. One of the highlights of the weekend. Talking rubbish, catching up with friends whom I only see once a year. One of the main attractions of Essen is the evenings at the hotel. I rarely play any games there, we just drink beer, lots of it and have fun.

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Whiskey night.

I managed to get around a bit more on Sunday. I picked up copies of games that had not sold out yet that had been recommended to me, including Sol. Chooi, it better be good! Likewise David and Angela with Burgle Bros! I caught up with Osprey Games to see how the reception was for Escape from Colditz and they said that it was very positive.

Sunday is always a sad day, saying goodbye to friends who I probably won’t see until next year. Filling the car up with the loot is nice though.

OK, this is all fine and dandy, but what about attendances, prices etc. Well considering that there was a lot more room available to move around in this year, it still seemed very busy. 100 extra exhibitors, 2 new halls and hall 7 almost completely used. Thursday, Friday and Saturday seemed very busy indeed. Trying to get around was a slow process. I didn’t go around the halls much on Thursday but when I went for a quick snack, it took me half an hour to get to the Currywurst shed and back. Sunday however was very quiet. Getting a demo was not a problem and often there was 2 or 3 tables on the Stratamax stand free. There was a lot of very tired bodies on stands towards the end of Sunday, mine included. I assume that this is the same for everyone who went to see the fair. The official attendance was 174,000 over the weekend. This was an increase of 12,000. The previous year’s attendance had been up by 2,000 per year, so this was a significant jump from the previous years. The exhibitors were from all over the world, not just Western Europe, with 50 nations from around the world represented. The reach of Spiel is truly global.

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A random shot in Hall 3 on Sunday. This was the quietest day.

There has been a trend that more and more companies are hiking up the price of their games, and I am not talking a couple of percent here. Originally the price for an English language version of A Feast for Odin was €100, although this was reduced to €60 on Saturday as no one was buying it, and it soon sold out then. Some companies were charging an ‘Essen Premium’ which is what I like to call it. Usually you will find games cheaper at Essen, direct from the publisher, rather than your local shop as there are extra layers of expenses to pay for before your local shop gets the game to sell to you. However in the last couple of years I have noticed that Bezier Games have been pricing their games very high. Favour of the Pharaoh was €50 last year and this year Colony was €50. Last year Favour of the Pharaoh was available from my local shop for around £36, Colony is already available for £43. Czech Games Edition did the same this year too with Adrenaline with a show price of €50 and a shop price of £37. These were the only ones that I came across, but I’m sure there are more offenders. Stronghold originally released the prices of their new games and took a lot of flak for their pricing and they reacted to it before the show started as when I went to their booth their prices had reduced dramatically from what was originally advertised. I found that more and more games were being sold at €45-€55 and it wasn’t hurting some of them. London Dread sold out on Saturday at €55 a copy as did Round House at €45 a copy. I remember only a few years back that paying €40 for a game was as much as anyone was prepared to pay. I hear more and more people complaining about certain companies doing this, but there is a simple solution, don’t buy the games if they are too expensive. Look what happened to A Feast for Odin.

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The haul. I see reviews in my future.

Going to Essen is not a cheap trip away. The total cost was over £1000. Half of that was spent on games and the other half was spent on Ferry, Hotel and having fun. The annoying thing is that I gained 3 lbs (1.5kg). I am blaming the beer for this.

On my return I noticed that some of my photos either didn’t save to my phone, or I deleted them somehow, so thanks to Paul, I have the pics that I was missing.

So overall it was a fantastic trip away, as it always is. I have already made provisional plans with my usual travel buddy to get there next year. The huge increase in attendance, new releases and exhibitors is a wonderful sign that the hobby is going from strength to strength and long may it continue.

 

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