Essen Spiel

Report by Ken Tidwell.

What is Spiel?

Spiel is the German word both for 'play' and 'game.' It is also the name of the largest boardgaming event in the world. Held in Essen, Germany, every October, Spiel '94 attracted over 100,000 game players, collectors, and inventors.

Spiel is held at Messe Essen, a sprawling convention complex. This year there were five large convention halls devoted to games and gaming. The entry hall held stalls for several game shops, Eurogames from France, Jumbo from the Netherlands, Gibson from the UK, Milton Bradley (sort of) from America, and a host of smaller game manufacturers and distributors. The main hall held displays by the major German game manufactures - Ravensburger, ASS, FX Schmidt, Schmidt Spiel, and the like, as well as Piatnik from Austria, White Wind from America, and many others, and several game and bookstore stalls. The third hall held computer and roleplaying game stalls. This was the only hall where American products, software and games, made anything like a reasonable showing (White Wind and the Hasbro conglomerate companies not withstanding). The fourth hall was half full of used games with the balance filled with Ludoliere from France and many more small game companies. The last hall was devoted to the entertainment of children, presumably so that their parents could go off and play games, and had several stalls with kids toys and the like.

Game company stalls varied in size and layout but all offered tables to play their latest wares and helpful, English-speaking folk to teach you the as yet untranslated rules. Most of the companies do not offer English translations for the rules of their latest games. One notable exception was Doris & Frank, who had a seperate stack of English rules that they popped into their games as you bought them.

The smaller game companies were selling their games directly. The larger companies relied on four or five large game shops set up at the show. This lead to dissappointment in the case of ASS's Route 66, which was being demonstrated by its inventor but was not available at Spiel.

What was Spiel like?

The range of new and used games available was overwhelming. Many of the European games are beautiful enough to own whether the game systems are good or not. Spotting those few that have nice bits AND good gameplay is the order of the day at Spiel.

We were lucky to have good guides in this endeavour. Mike Siggins and the Sumo Regulars showed us the ropes, provided ample advice as to the playability of various games, and introduced us to the various members of the extended Sumo family who attended the show.

We spent most of our time wandering from booth to booth trying to see everything. In between, we played lots of new games and chatted with lots of people that we had corresponded with over the last few years.

What is Essen like?

Essen is a mid-sized, modern city. Messe Essen is located on a main drag with lots of shops for snacks and all the stuff you forgot to pack. There is a subway that runs under this main drag which can take you out to dinner or back to one of the many hotels in the area.

The Gruga Park stretches for about a mile behind the Messe Center. It is a fine urban park in the style of Central Park in New York except that you have to pay to enter the Gruga Park. I suppose that's why there were no homeless folk sleeping on the benches (although, to tell the truth, I don't remember seeing any homeless people in Germany...).

Transport was easy. We stayed just down the road, close enough to walk to Messe but near the subway so we could ride in. We came to town by train and took a short (though expensive - we got caught in rush hour traffic and it took twenty minutes - later in the week we walked it in about that same time) cab ride to the hotel. Germany's trains are still great and I particularly recommend that American's travel around by train in Europe just so you realize how screwed up our own transportation system is. We flew out of the airport in Dusseldorf, which is 45 miles away or so. Since our flight was at the crack of dawn, we thought we would need to relocate to Dusseldorf the night before. The folks at the hotel assured us that this was nonsense and that they would arrange a cheap taxi for us. We said okay and ordered the taxi for an obscenely early hour to give us time to make the trip to Dusseldorf. Huge mistake. We had forgotten about the autobahn. Our taxi driver cruised to Dusseldorf at around 130 mph and we were there in less time than it had taken us to go from the train station to the hotel.

The German food was great. Jos, Siggins, and Mike Cliffard are all vegeterians and I think they had a tough time rustling up good grub. I would avoid New World food, in general, and Mexican specifically. Its quite the craze in Germany and the rest of Europe but something gets lost in the Atlantic crossing.

Almost everyone spoke a little English, which was good since I'm hopeless at languages and Jos doesn't speak German. We had a few problems at small bars/ restaraunts but a fellow patron always came to the rescue.

Komm, mit Spiel

And that, is about that. I recommend attending at your earliest convenience.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell