Essen 2012 - My Journal

Reflections on my pilgrimage to Essen Spiel 2012If you are looking for photo's of the games rather than the people I played them with then click here

Day 0
As our group of 18 (from across the UK) gathered in Essen at the end of a long days driving the first thought was food and beer but given our nature (!) these concerns were only marginally ahead of which game should we play? 
Essen Spiel 2012 Day 1 - The team gather in the hotel foyer
With schnitzels and bear ordered our first game was Paul Grogan’s prototype, code named Shaun. Paul (the group’s ringleader) had described this as we had driven across Europe and it had left me distinctly cold. However, when it came to playing the game I found the level of interaction and trading between players really engaging and the scepticism I had felt on the journey at the sound of ‘power stations’ and ‘factories’ was laid to rest. This game was played a number of times by others on the trip and all gave it a favourable review. Fingers crossed that this will eventually see the light of day as a successful commercial offering. 

Day 1 
After an early night and some much needed sleep I started the day by meeting up with Rory O'Connor (of Rory’s Story Cubes) and we played a demo game of Article 27: The UN Security Council Game.
Article 27: The UN Security Council Game - Two of the players
This was one of the games on my list to check out at the Spiel, because of the theme e.g. the UN Security council voting on sanctions, nuclear non proliferation, humanitarian issues, etc and my work with young people.  It seemed to me that if the game lived up to its billing it might provide an interesting platform to stimulate discussion around the intractable issues facing the world. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games of the trip and one of the games I brought back with me. This was a very social start to the Spiel, joining three fellow travellers from Britain, as the game called for lots of negotiating and trading (a dynamic in games that I particularly enjoy) as players sought to get their fellow players on side with votes before the UN Security council. 
Ginkgopolis - The players
Next up was a game of Ginkgopolis, a city building game set in some future world. Whilst very attractive and with high quality pieces it was a game that after half an hour we were all tempted to walk away from and one of the players did exactly that!  However myself, Rory, Phil and Fred (sorry I didn’t get your real name) stuck with it to the end - we did ultimately enjoy the game but none of us felt it would be a game we would rush to play again.

My next rendezvous was with Brett Gilbert the British designer behind Divinare. During our time together we spent some time with Andrea (Creative Director) on the Zoch Verlag stand looking at three of their new games; Riff Raff (reviewed here and a game being played on what seemed like 20 demo tables – sadly my photographic skills failed to capture this image); Mimikri (a memory game with an interesting new twist) and Banana Matcho (a game for which Zoch had shipped in 2.5 tonnes of bananas to the Spiel as promotional give aways!).
Brett, Matt and Andrea playing Mimikri
It was really interesting to have a discussion with Andrea about the development cycle of a game; how sometimes publishers take just a raw idea from a designer and the amount of work necessary to make it into a workable game. With another meeting booked for 7pm (the show's close time) I didn't leave the Spiel until long after the public had left and the cleaners had started their work of clearing up after 20,000+ people.
The Spiel after the public have left for the day and the cleaners move in
Evening entertainment consisted of another schnitzel, a game of Voluspa (with a mistaken understanding of the rules)
Voluspa - Dave and Hazel
and then another game of Article 27: The UN Security Council Game.
Article 27: The UN Security Council Game  - It is long past midnight as we near the end of this game

Day 2
This was a bit of a funny day with lots of time to look around the show, the second exchange of games as part of the BGG Essen Spiel Maths Trade and poor timing that meant I never quiet seemed to get the opportunity to play a decent game.

The highlight at some emotional (rather than logical level) was that I discovered that my name appeared on the credits of Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hills as a play tester. This came as quiet a surprise, but a pleasant one (having never appeared on the credits of a game before) and so it is perhaps no surprise that it was an impulse buy.
Tokaido - Some of the players
The evening saw the group gather for pizza and games of Tokaido and Among The Stars; the first was a definite hit and had already sold out at the show but, in my view at least, the second game was another OK game that offered nothing compelling.

As some of us turned in it surprised nobody that Chooi and his crew were embarking on one of the epic games of the trip, Clash of Cultures, apparently they finished at around 4am!
Clash of Cultures - The players have already started their epic game

Day 3
Frustrated at my fellow travellers enthusiasm for boring and bland games (adjectives used for effect, more accurate to say that they didn't interest me) e.g. Fleet (about docks warehouses and building a fishing fleet), Suburbia (building a metropolis) and Myrmes (the work of an ant colony) and their complete lack of interest in playing the new CGE games (said disinterest was largely because many of the group had either already decided to buy copies of these games or been involved in demo’s at the UK Games Expo earlier in the year or even play tested them.) 
Essen Spiel 2012 Day 3 - The designer of Tzolk'in The Mayan Calendar, Daniele Tascini
Anyway, I digress (I hear my wife’s voice telling me I am wittering on!).....said frustration prompted me to make the effort and get to the show as it opened on Saturday in the hope of making it through the crush to the CGE demo area; in particular I was keen to try Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar and Goblins Inc. Getting the last seat (phew!) I joined two Belgians and a Russian for a game of Tzolk’in. We were lucky enough to get our explanation of the game from the designer Daniele Tascini who it transpired Phil and I had met at the previous year’s show whilst playing Hawaii – a small world. We only played the game to the half way point but all of us were left enthusing about the game.
Essen Spiel 2012 Day 3 - My Belgian companions for the game of Tzolk'in
That evening I arrived back at the room knackered and wanting to just lie down and sleep however, I immediately perked up when Phil agreed to teach Paul K, Andy and myself Goblins Inc. In this game you work in pairs to build robots that then enter some bizarre contest to destroy their opponents. We played the standard rules which meant that you didn’t talk to your team mate (because you have hidden / different objectives) whilst building your robots or when planning how to attack your opponents robot. As Andy put it this seemed incongruous with the artwork and theme of the game which seemed a light affair which should have been more fun. The absence of interplay between the players made the game seem flat and uninspiring. This seems easily remedied by simply ignoring this ‘no speak’ rule and allowing players to be as truthful or more likely disingenuous as they like. With this change it is a game I am really looking forward to playing again.
Goblins Inc - Paul (left) looks glum whilst Andy (right) looks pretty happy with his situation in the game
The gods were obviously answering my prayers as after a delicious Chinese (the culinary highlight of the trip) our next game was Tzolk’in. As the only one who had played it I was expected to explain how the game worked, I am not sure we could use the word ‘teach’! In spite of my failings in this effort leading to a number of early misunderstanding Andy seemed to grasp some of the interplay in the game mechanism much faster than the rest of us creating a powerful use of the games elements that, in spite of the best efforts of the rest of us (Simon in particular), gave him a comfortable victory.
Tzolk'in - The players
Day 4
Essen Spiel 2012 Day 4 - The team gather for the return trip
The last day of the fair always seems a bit flat as you keep a close eye on the clock and know you have the long drive ahead of you. The main excitement is trying to work out of you can get all the baggage and games in the cars!
Simon, Rob and Paul cram in the car for the return trip
The long drive home was unsurprisingly punctuated by the snores of those tired after the many late nights.

Once the discussion in the car livened up the consensus was that the group as a whole had probably most enjoyed playing Suburbia, Myrmes, Fleet and Clash of Cultures. Although Paul wouldn't have said this for a couple of us at least project Shaun would also rank in the highlights. Unlike some previous years we did not identify one stand out game.
Skull and Roses - The players playing over the top of Paul's car
Thankfully the journey was uneventful and once in the tunnel we did manage one final game, a game of Skull and Roses which to my surprise I won.

It was another great trip, with a wonderful group, on a very social pilgrimage to the biggest games fair in Europe.

More photo's from the trip can be seen here.

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