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Travel report from Essen 2000 by a newbie!
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After 18 hour by night train from Sweden to Essen my girlfriend Christina and I finally arrived at the largest game fair in the world. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and fortunately it wasn’t too hard to persuade Christina to follow me, although she is not as crazy in board games as I am.

Thursday 26th of October
Easy to reach the fair by underground from the station (where we had got a hotel nearby). Long queues to get in, although it didn’t take that long time. At the wardrobe were they also very quick, although I wished that they had more boxes instead, which would make it easier to put in games you’ve bought.

Anyway, finally into the first large hall, which already was full of people. One of the first exhibitors we found was Kosmos and one of our targets was to test Knizia’s "Lord of the Ring". We quite soon found the "English demo" by David Farquhar, Reindeer’s co-designer. Some were already playing the game and we studied them for awhile before we made an appointment for the next demo. Reiner Knizia himself was a spectator for a while and we exchanged some words with him.

The next hour did we mostly more or less randomly browse through the 2 first halls (of altogether 6). Seeing games like, "Keytown" (felt a bit confusing about it), "Troia" (an archaeological game, which had got some prize). We went through several of the large exhibitors like Amigo, Ravensburger, Hans im Glück, but also several smaller ones. Quite a lot of people and it was amazing to see the large areas of tables, which were full at the most exhibitors. Felt sorry for some small, who actually had empty tables, but their games were probably less known. Some exhibitors were specialised in children’s game and other in puzzle games. It was also fun to see "RoboRally" live! Christina promised to be the robot, if we had the time and opportunity to play it (although the time passed away too quick for it).

Finally back to "Lord of the Ring", which was a fantastic experience and both did we fall in love with this masterpiece, although it helped to be a Tolkien fan. The game rather told the story and everyone played one of it’s Hobbit characters. On the different places should you collect cards and tokens which could help you to survive all the way to Mount Doom, but more important, co-operate and even sacrifice yourself for the group and especially for the current ring-bearer. Probably not a game for hard-core gamers, who are too competitive! We succeeded to come about halfway on the last board, so it wasn’t that bad. But the game requires that you can read all the text on both the boards and the cards, so I have to wait for the English version will come to Sweden. I heard that it would come to the shop ‘Tradition’ Gothenburg within a couple of weeks, so I’ve just booked it. Although it costs more than any other game I’ve bought (645 SEK = 146 DM!). It’s even worse than the "standard price" for imported games here, which is up to 500 SEK (112 DM). But on the games official home page, it’s sold for 30 GBP (around 95 DM), so the Swedish prize doesn’t surprise me. Actually most of the games on the fair is 2/3 down to half of the price.

A day later on Christina had a talk with David Farquhar, who told here some about the game. First of all that he worked halftime for Knizia with preparing of material and play-testing his games. One interesting thing in the testing of this game was that he had tested on a group of hardcore gamers, which completely had lost early. Then later on tested it on his neighbour family, who wasn’t that used to games and they succeeded much better already the first time, as they directly grasped the idea of co-operating! He was totally surprised how many Germans, who had read the books wanted the English version instead of the German one! Anyway they will try to come back with the game to Essen next year, as they count on an extra mutual promotion with the new movie "Lord of the Rings", although these have no connection at all.

Then I had an appointment with Ronald Hoekstra. It was great to finally see the face behind one of my net friends. He had already bought 20 games, but he should only be there until Friday and had a car with him. He had some tips to give, before he had to leave.

Then we went to the "used games shops" at the other end of the exhibition. There did I find a couple of games I’ve been looking for a while: "Magalon" (60 DM) and "Wiz-War" (39 DM). Later on I realised that they were really overpriced! Particularly Wiz-war, as I found that the Chessex counter sold original games for half the prize! I’m too used to the overprized Swedish game market, so I didn’t react, except when I hold another game, which I’ve been looking for: "La Vallée des Mammouths" for 160 DM! I couldn’t believe it. Particularly as I knew that Bruno Faidutti will come out with a revised and probably better version soon! So I released it reluctantly.

Anyway the last hall contained otherwise a lot of miniature games (i.e. Games Workshop) and a lot of stuff for live role-playing. On the way back did we try the well-critiqued game "Morisi". It was a simple and clever game, without any luck involved, but we didn’t like the scoring system. It made it too complicated to see who was in lead (at least in a 2-player game, as that was the only we tested). But it’s nice to see that one alone person has made such a good effort in game designing! I’m sure he’ll get rid of most of his 1000 copies.

I heard that Mayfair had copies of "Iron Dragon", which I’ve been interested in after trying the PC game demo of this game. But after seeing that it would take at least 3-4 hours, I realised that cobwebs would cover it, as my gaming friends prefer quicker games. I know what has happened with both "Civilization" and "Vikingatid", although I would like to play them again. We found a really lovely designed card game at the stand, called "Elixir". We asked for a demo, but the way of the terrible girl at the stand didn’t really encourage us to test it… Anyway it seemed to be more like a "party game", so it was probably not my cup of tea anyway!

Then we found 3 Germans, who wanted to test "Cartagena" (by Leo Colovini, the designer of "Carolus Magnus" - a favourite game and the new "Doge"). It’s a really simple game, but we realised soon that it was an extremely good game, which would be a good game to fill up with when everyone still want to play another game, but everyone is too tired for the heavy artillery. It ended up that both the Germans and we went to buy a copy each (29 DM, as 3 copies gave a reduction).

We went to the hotel an hour before closing time. A quick dinner at a nearby restaurant as we had to catch up with some lost sleep.

Friday 27th of October
It looked like it was fewer people today (still very full). First we went to Amigo to try out the card game "König der Elfen" (King of the Elves), as we both are enjoying "Elfenland" with the "Elfengold" expansion very much. But it was difficult to find someone, who could explain the rules in English, because as usual they didn’t have any English rules. After a short explanation and some try did we gave up! Actually they seemed to be quite uninterested in helping us, although it wasn’t that many people there for he moment….

To the Gold-Sieber stand. We were lucky, as a German woman was sitting alone waiting for someone to play with. We tried out "Doge" and one of the staff helped us through the rules in English. Great receptions after being at the "Amigo" stand. The game had a good interaction and I really liked the game. The bidding mechanism was simple and clever. I later bought the Rio Grande Games English version for 59 DM.

After the woman left us, we didn’t have to wait long until a Dutch couple arrived, who wanted to play with us. Fortunately the guy was both good at German and translating them to English. We tried out "Kardinal & König" ("Web of Power"), but none liked this game. The first half of it felt mostly like placing out pieces more or less randomly (which isn’t really true). The other half was connecting the territories.

The next game we tried with the Dutch couple and a friend of them, who joined us, was "Wongar". The theme was about Australian Aborigine ceremonies. It was great and although a bit messy in the beginning and a bit luck-based, it was appreciated. (Actually the game has advanced rules, which eliminate some of the luck.). After heard that I could find English rules on the net, I bought it for 55 DM.

After a pizza slice did we go to Ravensburger, where we wanted to test "Die Fürsten von Florenz". This time was we lucky to find an empty table and a girl in the stand was good at English, but she had to call for a colleague, who knew the game, but was bad at English! They were so service minded, so they helped us through the rules together! I thought it was pretty good, but it can be too much downtime between the players and not really any interaction between the players.

After that it was time to search for Fréderic Taton (another net friend) and his wife Solange. They were in the middle of a game of "Lord of the Ring". It was a good repetition to help them through the last part. Afterwards did we follow them to the restaurant "Istra" nearby, where a lot of gamers had gathered for the evening. I had Scott Alden ("boardgamegeek" site) besides me. There were also Aaron Fuegi (Top 100 list) and some other, whose name I’ve forgotten. Bruno Faidutti joined us later, after meeting with some publishers. After the dinner did we go to the Hotel Jung, where people either went to the bar or (like us) went up to a large room to play some games. We played with Frederic, Scott, Will and his wife from Texas some lighter games. First a co-operative memory game "Märchenwald". After that asked Bruno Faidutti us to test a game prototype, which we didn’t mind. It was a bluffing game called "Macao". You went around 13 casinos with your piece, to try to earn money. You had 3 cards to play (police, vamp and x2) to get more money on your own target space and destroy the possibilities for the other to earn money. It’s not bad for a bluffing game, which is not my first choice of game type. Easy rules and quite good flow, but I prefer his card game "Citadel". Then we tried a prototype game called "Gossip", which Will and his wife had brought. But it was a messy catastrophe. Finally we played the strategy game "Sumera" together with Fréderic and Scott. It was a nice, all wooden game and it seemed to have a good potential, but I won to quick and easy. Then the owner realised that he had forgotten one of the most important rules… Anyway I think I can recommend it. After a quick brainteaser game called "Flick Werk", Fréderic and Solange drove us back to our hotel around 2 am.

Saturday 28th of October
Today did we start at Hans im Glück stand. Just beside had Amigo a roleplaying demo and I just wonder why the Hans im Glück hadn’t strangled them with their microphone wire yet? They were really noisy! Although it was even more people at the fair today, it didn’t seem as so many had found this stand. A nice guy there, called Roland, helped us with "Attilla". Actually he even wanted to join us in the whole game, as he hadn’t tried it since the play testing. I thought it was a beautifully designed game. Quite nice strategy game, with a mix between "Risk" and a stock market game. But Christina thought it was rather boring. It was too much about placing pieces on the board and then scoring now and then. In between conflicts to secure a province. The designer of the game was also in the stand.

During the game did Will and Scott arrive. We played "Ohne Furst und Adel" ("Citadel") with him and Roland (although Will had played it a lot before). This was really a great bluffing game. I can realise that Bruuno Faidutti’s was nominated for the game of the year. It was quite easy to get a feeling of how to play the game and still I could feel that it had much more potential below the surface. I’m looking forward to play this at home. I found it later on for 15 DM and I knew that the rules were on the net.

Some food into the stomach and strolling around for a while, before we went back again. We found a table and a German girl joined us for a test of "Carcassonne". An easy, but quite clever tile laying game. You build up a map with the tiles with roads, towns, meadows and monasteries. You try to control them by playing one of your 7 followers on them and when an entity is completed, you score it and take back it (if it hasn’t become a farmer, which is scored at the end). We were sure it would be a great filler for the late game evening, so I found a copy for 23 DM.

We continued with the game "Morgenland" (Aladdin’s Dragon). As Roland didn’t know this game so much, so he fetched it’s designer Richard Breese, who explained it for us. It was a beautiful bidding game, which particularly I become found of, although I didn’t manage so well. Anyway it’s definitively worth 45 DM. Richard had a spare copy of the rules, so it would be easier to play and interpret the spell cards.

After buying the games, was it time to leave. In town was there an Asian circus on Colosseum Theatre, which we really enjoyed. This was the best circus we ever had seen (and particularly Christina has seen a lot). It was a total experience with great dancing and other performances by the acrobats between and during the different numbers. All the shops in the centre were opened late this evening. The light decorations in the streets, which Essen is well known for, were turned on for the first night this autumn. The theme of the decorations was all the "Bundes republicen" in Germany and they all had their own marketing cottage in the streets. The city gave a much better impression than we had anticipated before!

Sunday 29th of October
Back to the last day of gaming. Today it was once again a lot of people. We found a couple of English guys called Andy and Martin at a Ravensburger table, with whom we played "Java". The rules were in German, French and Italian, so we had to struggle through a translation of the French rules (why not English rules?). A Ravensburger guy came and asked if we wanted help, when we had reached the last page! Only the "festival cards" give any luck in the game. Otherwise it is only skill. Although you think the design looks a lot like "Tikal", it’s a completely different game. The 6 action points mostly feels quite enough, compared to the 10 in "Tikal". It’s a good game, but without that many interactions. It flowed quite well for us, but with players who always think a lot, it will be terrible, with much downtime.

At Schmidt Spiel we did run to a table, which just became free. A friend to Andy and Martin joined us as well. There did we try a game called "Eschnapur". It was a nice game, which looked very tempting. The bidding and negotiations were a bit confusing and the drawing of cards made the game too luck-based, so it became soon less interesting.

After eating and strolling around for a while, Christina went to see a handball match between Essen and Bayern in the "Bundeslige". I finally got a table at Kosmos to play "La Città". I had got English rules (a printout from Internet) from Andy before (Thanx Andy!). I had to stop several, who wanted to have the table but not playing this game, before 3 Germans eventually joined me for a game. I really enjoyed it! It gives a "déjà vu" experience for anyone, who ever has played the PC game "Civilization". Expanding your cities by building them large enough, so there is place for new citizens and guessing what they would like (of health, education or culture) during the current game year. (It costs 1 turn out of 5 to check it out.) See to that the farms give enough food to the expanding population. Getting enough gold through "building" mines. If your neighbour city/cities has more of their current preference, one of your citizens will emigrate at the end of the game year. Unfortunately it’s quite a lot of text on the cards, so I prefer an English edition (which costs 449 SEK (100 DM) at Tradition).

With a night train did we return to Sweden with 8 new games and 2 "wishes" and I can summary the fair with:

I’ll definitively come back within some years, although it’s a bit to travel.

 

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