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Essen 2022 – Everything You Need To Know

Essen 2022 - Everything You Need To Know
Essen 2022 - Everything You Need To Know

There are many board game conventions every year, all over the world. But the number one is without question the Spiel held in Essen every October. Why? Well, a few reasons.

As for the physical size this year, we had six main halls to explore and play in. All are mostly used up. It’s a massive event in the literal sense. Close to 150,000 people graced the halls of the show over the four days this year.

The number of new games launching at Essen is vast. It fits perfectly into the run into Christmas so publishers aim to launch at Essen to get the big PR push right at a peak buying time.

The location. The fact that many see Germany as the spiritual home of modern board games, with so many great designers, publishers, and games coming out of Germany over the last 30 years. And of course, some of the biggest awards and prizes in our industry are of German origin.

But all in, none of this really sums up the feeling created by going to Essen for this bonanza of games! Meeting friends from all over the world at Essen feels special. People flock to this convention in their thousands and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. It’s the people that make it.

The Highlights

With over 1,200 new games at the show, you have to be choosy! I created a short list using the BGG preview prior to going. On my shortlist, I had 147 games. I knew I wouldn't have time to see them all but I was willing to give it a good try! So, here are the best games from that shortlist. The best of the best that I managed to see, but there sure would be many more I didn’t get to see, no question.

Checking out Redwood from Sit Down! games was a highlight though. It's currently on Kickstarter and it is stunning both in terms of looks and gameplay. I love how you move your characters and then use school math class like equipment to assess your current view. It has interesting scoring options too. One to watch for sure. Meeting the design team behind The Red Cathedral and Walkie Talkie by Devir was a real thrill for me. Walkie Talkie is an awesome little card game that I demo'd and then immediately bought at the show. I love how simple it is to play, but how addictive it can be. Meeting Isra and Shei from Llama Dice was a real thrill for me. They were so humble and seemed confused at how excited and emotional I was to see them!

In Walkie Talkie, you have six cards with either a single letter or a single colour on. There are two cards on the table. One showing a letter. One showing a colour. 30 seconds is available per player. You will all play simultaneously, trying to get rid of your cards by playing a letter on a letter or a colour on a colour. All you need to do when you play a card is say a word that matches the card you are playing. For example, if you play a W next to the colour blue you could say Water. If you played a Pink next to a letter F you could say Flamingo. You can say anything you like as long as it is not a colour and it makes sense. Get rid of your cards in the time limit to win. All the cards are double sided, with a letter on one side and a colour on the other. If someone says ROGER, then all players must flip their cards over. If someone says OVER, then all players must pass their card to the left. It's a bit like The Mind meets Boggle! Great fun!

The Games

My pre-show big hitters were Tribes of the Wind, Revive, Sabika, War of the Ring, and Flowar. All looked amazing at the show, and I would encourage you to check them all out.

Tribes of the Wind was the only one I played a full demo of though sadly. It was good. If a friend owned it and asked to play with me, I would happily do so. And I feel over a few games I could come to enjoy it a lot. But it felt quite abstract and the theme of rebuilding civilisation in a post-apocalyptic world was what draw me in. Sadly, feeling none of that as I played really put me off, despite the game being solid. I liked how the actions you could do were largely dictated by the symbols on the back of the cards that your neighbour had. Hence the card holders below, allowing you to see what everyone has on the back of their cards. The multiple ways to play and score was fun. I liked how the game ended by building your fifth treehouse, which could happen sooner or later, depending on each players tactics. But it was good, not great. And had no real new mechanic or clever moment, so without the theme, I was ok to move on.

Sabika and Flowar I would have got had I more budget! But you cannot buy them all, and as I didn't have time to fully demo them, I have left them for another time. Hopefully soon. Sabika in particular looks amazing.

Hall three was my favourite. It was huge and had a lot of my favourite publishers located within it. But everywhere you looked there was something awesome, and I honestly think you could spend over a week and still not see it all. But you need to keep your eyes peeled because it can all blur into one. It is hard to separate individual people and games. Well, it is at least for me. But in one glorious corner of hall 2, you could find the Serbian Tabletop Guild. A group of designers and publishers from Serbia, joining forces to create something amazing, working together to share their combined efforts, in one big stand. They even had a free promo game they were handing out that promoted each of their individual businesses whilst being a playable card game. How cool!

The Hype

Some games get a lot of pre-show hype from the various outlets and channels that promote games. But Essen does not seem to have that many good deals anymore. Prices are normal costs. As such, the main reason to go for many is to get the hot games first. Others go for the spectacle, to see friends, network, or simply just play some games. But the queues for the hot games each day proves a large part of the show is about getting the new stuff first! Many games sold out, even at high prices, and it is great to see our wonderful hobby in boom time. I am sure many publishers, distributors, and designers suffered like most during lockdown, with distribution and parts being a real issue. But it seems we are nearly back to normal. Although there still seems to be a huge issue with importing games. So many publishers told me they had stacks of games stuck in customs and were unable to demo or sell them at the show. This happens every year. Surely there is a better way?

One game I missed out on but hope to try soon is The Wolves. Just look at how pretty it looks! This is a territory building area-majority game with a modular board that has a Cascadia look to it, but plays very differently. You can turn over the terrain tiles where you want to have your turn, to change what terrain is visible. This of course affects the options available to you on your next turn. You need to upgrade your Wolf packs abilities and control across each terrain type to win the game. It is a lovely puzzle that looks great and seems to play very smoothly.

Essen 2022 Devir Stand

The Good, Bad, And Ugly

I loved 99% of the show. The stands are so impressive. The people at the stands are all so friendly and welcoming and you get great demos, mostly! There are some queues for some hot games, but there is always something to do, some game to play. Or some person to say hello to!

The few things I don't enjoy are the queues outside at the start of each day. Arrive 20 minutes late and you walk right in. But if you want to get in for the 10am start, you will gather outside in a big crowd, waiting to get through a narrow door, and have your ticket scanned by one of three people. Other doors are better, but this is the entrance to hall one where I always go in as it is closest to the car park I use. It's a bit stressful for me, and I feel they could have a more orderly queue, a lot more people scanning tickets, and maybe even start scanning in the queue before the doors open to avoid the rush.

The worst bit about the show though is the noise and hustle and bustle. There is no chill area, and it is all a bit intense. Sure, I chose to go for two days, 10am through to 7pm, I could break it up. But it would be nice if they had some area to chill in. You can get outside through a few doors, but there are no seating areas, and it's mainly full of people smoking. There must be hundreds of people like me that want to stay the full day but find it very hard to do so. I think Essen Spiel needs to accommodate for this a bit more. Airecon does this best I feel, with lots of side rooms, chill areas, and break areas. Maybe the two organisers could chat!

Top Essen Survival Tips

Parking – Book your parking beforehand and get to the Essen Spiel around 9-9:15 if you can. The show starts at 10, and the nearby car parks get busy. Parking on-site is not expensive, and there are plenty of sites if the closer ones are full up. But there will be queues forming if you come later. But be mindful of the local traffic too if it’s a weekday, it’s a little busy around 8:30 due to commuter traffic.

How busy is it? What’s the best day to go? – Thursday and Friday are typically quieter due to the locals coming for the weekend. So, if you want a slightly more sedate experience, Thursday should be your day. But it will still be packed! Sunday is a good day to go for late show deals.

How to get in – There are a number of entrances, and everyone tends to go to the one by hall 1 as they want to get into the main part first. As such, the queues here are bigger and fill up quicker. If you head round to the entrance by hall 8 you will find the queues much shorter and move a lot quicker.

Where to stay – There are several hotels close by and in the nearby town, but they get booked up quick and are expensive for this period of the show. But there is an after-show buzz to enjoy! I have stayed every time in Dusseldorf. It is a 25-minute drive and has a lovely Old Town to visit in the evenings. And the hotels are much cheaper. But it does feel like you are out of it in the evenings, and you miss some of the buzz.

Sold Out! – Prior to the Essen Spiel, there will be many hyped games. The BGG hot list is the main way this seems to happen, and with just a few hundred thumbs up, a game can rocket to the top of the list. This will then often lead to long queues at these stands on the first morning. This year, this happened for a few games, and some of these sold out on day one. So, if you want something specific, get there early on the first day, or pre-order. Even if the publisher is not advertising a pre-order, you can still reach out to them directly and ask to do that.

Language barrier – Every person seems to speak multiple languages at the show. Exhibitors often have handy badges with national flags on showing their spoken languages. If you are looking for a demo or help, it will always be close by. The staff at all stands are amazing. If you are looking for a copy of a game in a specific language, again, this will be possible. Most are German language, but there are plenty in English too. But often the price will be better in German, so look out for those language-independent games! And don’t forget, you can download most rule books in any language online.

Food – In between some of the halls there is a long thin hall with a few exhibitors, but mostly food stands. Donner kebabs, Burgers, Burritos. That type of thing. There are a few tables and chairs to sit on, but not loads. A lot of people end up on the floor. You can bring your own food if you want. The prices are all reasonable. But the choice isn’t huge. Queues are fine. People seem to eat at various stages in the day. There is nothing really local bar a nice bakery about 10 minutes’ walk south, or a street full of restaurants around 10 mins east, unless you want to drive.

Playing games – Exhibition space at Essen is at a premium so often stands will only have a few tables to play games on. They obviously fill up quick for the bigger and more popular games. Some stands will have signup sheets to book in slots, but if you want to try something specific then I suggest you go there early. Waiting for a slot is a chance to learn the game and still a great experience watching others.

When playing yourself, be mindful, if you are playing a long game, the person demonstrating the game may not want you to play the entire game. They will want to maximise the amount of people who get to try it so may only want you to play a few rounds or turns. Most of the smaller or less popular games you can play the whole thing, but just be mindful of this expectation upfront for the bigger ones and perhaps clarify that at the start so you don’t end up disappointed. If you want to play a game that requires more people than your group, then most stands work this out quite well for you and group people together.

Buying games – This is easy. Buy what you want! But I would suggest you try and seek out the popular ones first. And any that you are unsure on, try to play it first. Also, don’t be suckered into deals you don’t want. Many popular games will be at a stand with a 3 for 2 deal. They know they have a hot property and will try and use that to encourage you to buy other games from their archives. This is all fine if you want them, but we all have limited budgets right!

Carrying games – This is the hardest part of the show. You will see people with trolleys, suitcases, all kinds of ways to get their purchased cardboard home. There are stalls selling great cases and portable fold up trolleys at the show. So, if you don’t have one, you can still get one. They are very reasonably priced. There are also shipping companies there, ready to package up your new games and send them to you, again for very reasonable prices. Or you can just put them into a carrier bag provided by the publisher that sold them to you! But be mindful, if you buy a few, and you buy early, then your arms, shoulders, and hands are going to hurt! Hopefully, your car isn’t too far away, and you can always ship home from the show for a reasonable cost. They have a stand for that too.

What to bring – Comfy shoes! You will do a lot of steps! A drink. There are not that many places to buy them and you will be talking a lot! As such, perhaps some throat sweets too! Wear light, comfy clothes. It’s warm enough inside for t-shirt only. But be mindful that outside, it’s the German Autumn, so a coat or jumper for the evening or queue outside in the morning if you plan to get there early will be welcome.

Cash vs Card – Obviously this is your preference. But note, some stands unbelievably only take cash. Even some of the bigger stands and they won’t always display this clearly. Worth checking before you queue up if you don’t have both. There are cash points here, but not many and they are hard to find with terrible signposting! Worth having a bit of both and bring it with you!

That’s your lot. Essen is an amazing experience and one I hope everyone gets a chance to have at least once. See you there in 2023 and happy gaming!