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HFC on Tour: Spiel 2012 in Essen, the world’s biggest consumer fair for gaming

Posted by Denny Koch on October 23, 2012

Gaming tables everywhere!

This year, we attended SPIEL 2012 in Essen, the world’s biggest consumer trade fair for gaming. The fair was held in the Messe Essen from Oct 18th – 21st, which means four days of playing and testing popular and new (even unpublished) games and, of course, the opportunity to buy games. This attracted about 150,000 visitors from all over the world.

On 46,000 square meters of exhibition space, you can find all kinds of games and gaming equipment – from Eurogames to classics (like Chess and Go), consims and wargames, board games, card games, electronic games, role-playing games, tabletop games, up to LARP equipment such as armor, weapons, costumes, and clothing. In addition there is “Comic Action“, a Comic fair, which is part of Spiel. Here you have the opportunity to see, read and buy all kinds of comics and comic related stuff, from European and US mainstream comics up to quite bizarre Japanese Manga products.

Home of Wargamers!

Spiel 2012 was a really big event (the exhibition area, which extends over 10 halls, is even larger than Gamescom, the annual European video games fair in Cologne) and attracted visitors and exhibitors from all over the world. You could find the big players (for example Hasbro, German company Ravensburger…) next to small and highly specialized game shops, independent publishers, smaller companies and publishers (GMT Games, Matrix Games / Slitherine, UGG, Twilight Creations, Days of Wonder, Eagle Games…), organizations and clubs (the German consim society GHS, The Guild of Role Playing Gamers), and special booths, giving an overview over games from a certain country, for example Russia, or South Korea. Even companies who specialize in proofreading game concepts and producing your components (counters, maps etc.) were represented. There were also gaming championships and open tournaments going on, as well as workshops and tutorials.

Entire sections were dedicated to gaming equipment, for example dice, tabletop painting and modelling equipment, or card sleeves, and clothing and weapons for knights, orcs, and the medieval LARP household.

The Location

The Galeria

Essen is one of the 10 largest cities in Germany and located in the heart of the industrial Ruhr area. The infrastructure is very good, the city can be reached easily by plane (via airport Düsseldorf), train, or car. It takes only a few minutes from the central station to the fair grounds “Messe Essen” and shuttle busses as well as subways connect the Messe to the inner-city.

We went to Essen by car, which took probably longer than getting to the fair grounds by subway, because the sheer size of the fair led to a minor traffic collapse around the Messe. There were several parking lots, but some were reserved for exhibitors or journalists, and most of the public parking lots in the Messe vicinity were already occupied by the time we got there. A parking guide sent us to a remote parking lot and advised us to return with the (free of charge) shuttle bus, but fortunately, we discovered a secret parking garage near the Gruga park, a large city park close to the Messe.

46,000 square meters of exhibition space

From there, it was only a short walk (among the hordes of other visitors) until we reached the modern fair grounds, consisting of several halls and glass gallerias.

Two entrances led to the exhibition halls. We got our tickets in advance via internet, so we didn’t have to wait in the long queues at the ticket offices. Despite the fact that we reached the halls quite early (the fair opens at 10 am, we were there at 10:30, due to some unexpected driving  in search for parking space and the resulting traffic jam), there were many visitors already, but we still got a good chance to visit all interesting booths and take a look at several games. In the afternoon, it became so crowded that some walkways were completely choked with people and it became almost impossible to take a closer look at some booths.

A central “Galeria” connects the several exhibition halls. In the galleria, there was some children entertainment, for example a presentation of Sony’s new “Wonderbook” series, climbing areas, juggling, a bouncy castle, and of course gastronomy. You could buy soft drinks, juice and beer everywhere and there were all kinds of food available as well, from sweets and ice to German Bratwurst, Turkish Kebab, French Crêpes, waffles, Bavarian Pretzels, Pizza, to Alsation tarte flambée.

Exhibition Halls

Star Trek games at the WizKids booth

We began our tour by taking a stroll through the several halls, gathering impressions from the various new games which were often presented and explained by the game designers themselves. We didn’t limit ourselves to wargames or our other favorite genres (such as Fantasy Flight stuff, or everything related to Cthulhu and Zombies), but used the opportunity to get a general overview over the gaming market.

Many games dealt with popular topics we had seen a hundred times before, but we were delighted to find out that there were also many fresh ideas.

An enthusiastic game designer presented his game “Signum Mortis“, a game about a more uncommon topic from Ancient Rome – the criminal gangs of the Aventine Hill. It is a game for 3-5 (adult) players and based on historical facts as outlined by Marcus Tullius Cicero. The game was published in a run of 100 copies which were for sale at the fair, and by Saturday, there were almost no games left – which didn’t faze the designer, who happily declared that he had now more time to play games in Essen!

Hello Boardgamer!

At the WizKids booth, we took a look at “Star Trek Fleet Captains“: a card-driven space exploration / ship-to-ship combat game with 24 starship miniatures and a customizable game board, consisting of hexagonal tiles. The game is for 2-4 players. There was also a Romulan expansion on display as well as a cooperative Star Trek game by Rainer Knizia, based on the relaunch of the Star Trek series: “Star Trek Expeditions” (with the first expansion). Another prominent game at the WizKids booth was the popular “Mage Knight” with the “Lost Legions” expansion.

We then moved on to the large “Flames of War” booth, a very popular World War II / Vietnam War tabletop system. Here you could see and buy tons of miniatures and terrain (which can also be abused to build Warhammer 40k landscapes).

Another game, which apparently appealed to many players, was “Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery” by Battlefront Miniatures Ltd, based on the TV series. It is a game for 3-4 players and there were gaming tables and prominent posters of the TV characters all over the fair. We watched for a while and found out that this game appeared to be centered around intrigues, scheming, and betting. Since this wasn’t exactly our genre (and the TV series was horribly bad as well), we left Spartacus behind (only to meet him again in the next exhibition hall).

At the weird Japanese Shogi booth

There were gaming tables all around the place and even large gaming spaces where people were playing all different kinds of games, from the newest stuff to Backgammon and Chess, the sheer mass of games was quite impressive.

We visited some more curious booths, for example a very Japanese booth presenting Shogi, the “Japanese chess” where a Japanese girl with mouse ears invited the visitors to the booth, or a young man with a chicken on his head explained a game to the public…

After these weird impressions, we moved on to the “Home of Wargamers” (as promised by a large poster), the Matrix Games / Slitherine booth. Since we love to play Matrix Games such as “Battle Academy“, or the Ancients game “Fields of Glory“, we stopped to take a look at the program. There were several new PC games and add-ons on display (or classics like TOAW) and you could buy FoG expansion discs for a nice exhibition-only discount price. The main focus laid on the new IPad / Tablet PC programs and you could try “Battle Academy” on a Tablet PC at the booth.

Wargamer’s heaven!

We then discovered a booth where you could buy consims – including rarities and really cool stuff (we are still looking for Devil’s Cauldron, but alas, didn’t find it there). We spent a while with open mouths studying the vast world of consims in front of us, then remembered the tons of consims still on our shelves (including Totaler Krieg 2 and Dai Sensou waiting to be played) and moved on in a very disciplined and self-controlled manner. ;)

Another game caught our attention, because the booth was decorated in a very eye-catching manner: “Hooyah“, the Navy Seals cooperative card game. The game box looked very promising and we like a quick card game from time to time (for example the fast and entertaining “Lightning” series), or games like “Naval Battles” or “Death Angel” (not talking of complex card games like Blue vs. Grey or Up Front here ;-)). We watched the staff explaining and playing a game, and came to the conclusion that this wasn’t what we were looking for. Despite the topic (a team of Navy Seals specialists conducting a time-critical mission) and the fact that each player is a certain character (the Sniper, Demolition Expert, Medic…) with different special abilities, the game appeared to be quite abstract and the mechanics reminded me of UNO in a weird, remote fashion. In addition, we didn’t like the card artworks which mainly present numbers and text in bland colors. We are obviously not the target audience for this game, so we moved on.

Hooyah: Nice presentation, but not our favorite kind of game

We were attracted by another booth which made a stylish appearance: the Romanian company Real Wallachia Games. This company presented their game “I am Vlad: Prince of Wallachia“, an epic board game about Vlad the Impaler. What makes the game special is the fact that it offers two levels of gameplay – one takes place on the “Game map”, the other on the “Underworld map”. The game has a high heft factor with a 3 kg big box filled with maps, miniatures, tokens, dice, coins, cards, and dials, and it certainly looked like a fresh idea. Since there was very high traffic at the booth, we couldn’t take a deeper look at the gameplay, but the game managed to arouse our interest and we will wait for further information or reviews (or a review copy ;-)).

Games with postapocalyptic and Steampunk scenarios also appeared to be quite popular as well as more games from common franchises such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Especially Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing miniatures game was very prominently displayed all over the fair. Another hot topic were space flight / exploration / simulation games.

LARP equipment played in important role

We then moved through the Comic Action halls which attracted people in weird costumes, from very cool and realistic Orcs to very ugly, home-made angels. You could buy cosplay stuff there, for example pink Japanese wigs, Manga masks, Manga costumes, action figures, comics from all over the world, and lots of franchise stuff, for example life-sized Hobbit cardboard stand-ups.

Next to the Comics hall was the LARP hall, crowded with stuff for the ambitious Live Role Playing gamers. You could buy incredible equipment there, from complete chain mail (299 €) and knight armor to Roman Legionary armor and fantasy costumes. Leather clothing, girdles, the typical German drinking horns, swords, and even fake rifles, for example M16s, AKs, and FAMAS or fake Sniper rifles. All over this area were costumed visitors, dressed as barbarians, or future soldiers, or Gothics (who were not costumed at all), or men wearing kilts. Since this area was extremely crowded, we left it after a quick look (we rarely dress as Roman legionaries or Orcs anyway), and returned to the Holy Halls of Gaming.

As Warhammer 40k fans, we were somewhat disappointed that Games Workshop wasn’t at the exhibition. Nevertheless, you could buy Warhammer 40k and Fantasy stuff everywhere, often with a special discount.

Among Hobbits

Another interesting game idea which we found innovative was the cooperative board game “Flash Point: Fire Rescue“. In this game, you are fire fighters and must rescue victims trapped in burning buildings. Each player controls an individual fire fighter with special skills and abilities. On Spiel 2012, players had the chance to try out the expansions “2nd Story” and “Urban Structures“. The booth with its gaming tables attracted many players and there was much fire fighting going on.

Zombie games appear to be very popular (which is a general trend, not only on the board gaming market but also in the TV, movie, and video game sectors), and we could see at lot of Zombie games, from the very easy and very funny “Zombie Dice” to Twilight Creation’s “Zombies!!! The card game” series with its many expansions to various Zombie board games, for example the board game to the “Walking Dead TV series” and “Zombie Survival – The Board Game“. In addition to the “Zombies!!!” series, Twilight Creations offers a “Martians!!!” and “Humans!!!” series which appears to be a similar type of game.

A popular topic: Zombies

Another popular game at the Twilight Creation booth was “The Current Number of the Beast” which was played by many gamers. This is a fast-paced dice manipulation game with cards and nice satanic artworks. Since it only required 30-60 minutes to play, it is certainly a funny in-between game.

The BGG TV studio

Boardgamegeek had a large booth, or better: TV studio in one of the halls, but their reporters were all over the place with cameras and microphones, interviewing designers and presenting games. You can see their Essen reports and streams on the BGG website.

In the afternoon, the halls became significantly more crowded and it was almost impossible to reach certain areas in the most popular halls. Gaming spaces were occupied to the last seat and private talks with designers who explained their games to the visitor became next to impossible. Fortunately, we had seen everything we wanted to see during the early hours, so we could spend the rest of the day with taking a second look at interesting spots we had noted earlier before, and wondering at the sheer size of this fair which is (as already mentioned) even bigger than Cologne’s Gamescom (but not so noisy).

Conclusion

A BGG interview at the Matrix / Slitherine booth

“Spiel” in Essen is definitely worth a visit! You get a very thorough overview over the current gaming market and have the opportunity to see, play and buy games which aren’t published yet.

The fair offers a good mix of German and international productions, not only from the US and Japan, but also from many other countries, for example Russia, Poland, Korea, The Netherlands, Italy, or Romania. In addition, there are many shops, traders, and you can buy games from many companies for discount prices. There are special offers everywhere, for example game auctions or “each game 5€” or “buy 3, get one for free”.

Games from Russia

Consims are (naturally) not the most prominent games on this fair, but the open-minded wargamer will be happy nevertheless. There is so much to see, many interesting new developments, fresh ideas, classics in new splendor, and a wild mix of genres and visitors. If you are looking for a rare Avalon Hill Consim, you have good chances to find it here – as well as the latest stylish modern-day games.

The location is ideally suited for such a big consumer fair, because it is in a central European region with a very good infrastructure and the halls are large and modern (but, as usual in a trade fair, too hot, despite the air conditioning).

It would be cool if there were more of the smaller wargaming companies (DVG, Decision Games, MMP, Columbia Games…)! Many of those, who are in Essen yet, team up and share a booth, sometimes together with specialized shops, clubs, or organizations such as the German Society for Historical Simulations (GHS) with UGG and GMT Games, so the interested wargamer can find the cumulative wargaming experience in one spot. This as a suggestion to the other consim / wargame publishers out there, who were only represented by shops. We are certain that they will find a large, interested audience among the 150,000 visitors who are eager to play and learn new games! :)

A continuous burner: Star Wars

For us, Spiel 2012 was a worthwhile experience. If you have the opportunity to go to Essen in 2013 (Oct 24th – 27th), you should visit the world’s biggest consumer fair for gaming!

One Response to “HFC on Tour: Spiel 2012 in Essen, the world’s biggest consumer fair for gaming”

  1. Victory Point Games was there at the booth for our German distributor, Brave New World. It was interesting to see overall how few wargame companies were at the show. And we were near more RPGs, so our wargame sales (except the new No Retreat 3) were fairly slow.

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