Hold on to your virtual hats, board gamers, for this week comes the hottest date in our collective calendar; Essen Spiel 2020 is here!
And when I say “here”, I mean here, there, everywhere. No longer the exclusive playground of those who can make the pilgrimage to West Germany; from Thursday to Sunday, Essen Spiel is on your screen and all up in your machine.
Like the surprise love-child born of Skynet and Knightmare, Spiel.Digital 2020 aims to provide a magical experience that only the biggest game fair in the pre-Coronavirus world can bring. All in the comfort of your own home, of course.
But, without the warm craft beer, hefty currywurst, prized wrist band, and tabletop bounty to hold in your sticky, sweaty, eager hands, will Spiel.Digital hit your cyber sweet spot?
A Digital Rabbit Hole
Now, cards on the tabletop time. As you may have gleaned from my first Zatu feature, I am quite new to the scene. However, I have eagerly tumbled head-first down the board game rabbit hole. I'm hungrily sampling every delight our industry and community proffers on the way down. From playing, collecting, and trading to testing, reviewing, and writing about board games, my name is Tora and I am a self-confessed gameoholic.
As such, whilst my enthusiasm cup runneth over, I openly admit to having limited convention history with which to compare Spiel.Digital. However, rather than being hampered by my fledgling status, I am going to embrace my rather unique perspective to assess the merits of this gaming granddaddy’s foray into online expos. No wistful memories of the Essens of old to make me misty-eyed; no ingrained player prejudice against everything virtual to darken my mood and destroy my happy place. Rather, I am going to encounter this expo free from the shackles of prior form.
Indeed, trying to compare an online event with a tangible, physical one is wrought with inequity. Like a rousing round of Fruit Ninja, this is an apples v oranges exercise. One destined to put Spiel.Digital on the back foot. On that basis, my baseline for Spiel.Digital is UKGE 2020; another veteran of the gaming scene that, back in August of this year, took the brave decision to go exclusively online.
All Set to Spiel?
But, overall, I am trying my utmost not to anticipate. At risk of offending my loving husband’s Clan, Robert Burns was wrong; Suspense is most definitely not worse than disappointment – they are both excruciating! Knowing that there will be 400 exhibitors peddling their wares fresh out of the virtual box, myriad interactive programs and panels, online chatrooms, and a multitude of gaming simulations which can be sampled with a click of a mouse is reassuring for an anxious gamer like me. Presupposing how the various elements will build to create a satisfying cyber experience risks, however, doing a disservice to both the organisers and the attendees, and one which is a red flag to my anxiety bull.
And so, during my expo after-party, when I finally switch off my mic and sit back (or more likely stand up!) in the fading glow of my screen after 4 days of digital overdosing, I will reflect on the experience and it how it stacked up for somebody like me. Will I be left euphoric or despondent? Who knows. For now, however, I am entering Spiel.Digital bright eyed and bushy tailed. Enthusiastic at the prospect of four days of game premieres, previews, demos, and total (online) tabletop immersion.
I should say that a large part of my own curiosity is piqued by the limited information available about the form Spiel.Digital will take and what it will include. At the time of writing, the website itself is a technological tease; a large second by second countdown to the grand opening fills your screen with a simple list of the forthcoming new game releases (1,400 at the latest count!) and a brief Q&A on registration formalities. Apart from that, however, your imagination is left to run wild as to what will await you! Creating an almost meta experience; like a Spiel sandbox game in which you will roam the digital halls, exploring virtual trade stands to collect your snippets of information and sneaky peaks, either co-operatively or in competition with hundreds of thousands of other committed board game fans.
I have placed my online order for energy drinks and cereal bars. Strategically placed my laptop, tablet, and phone chargers around the house. I have even apologised in advance to family members who may hear the odd squeak from me as I shuffle, tired-eyed and muttering from study to kitchen, headphones still attached, for a rare comfort break. I am all set to Spiel.Digital. The only question left is, are you?
BRING ON THE GAMES!