Is Essen Spiel worth attending?

Culica inventor James Eadon shares his thoughts on the German board game fair.
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Spiel is the famous annual games fayre held in Essen, Germany. 

According to official Spiel website, Spiel is "Four days of fun: meeting friends; playing and testing thousands of games and novelties together with gamers from all over the world".

A salesman told me that exhibiting at Essen is even more fun than exhibiting at trade shows because selling to the public is simply “selling”, a lighter hearted experience than doing business with other businesses. 

To compare the big German events, Essen is smaller but denser and busier than the Nuremberg trade show. When I say Essen is “smaller”, it is nevertheless vast, with hundreds of exhibitors and a hundred and fifty thousand visitors. A CEO who, like me, was visiting for the first time, was awestruck by the size and scale of Spiel.

Many games exhibitors provide chairs and tables to allow families and friends to get down to the serious business of play. 

The halls nearest the entrance are the most family-oriented, with the big players showing off their goodies in opulent stands attended by handsome squads of friendly young men and women who help you play their shiny games.

The halls further in may not be as flashy, but they have a different charm. Some halls are populated with role playing games, others contain quirky games by small companies, some sell games-related books, art, weapons (fake, mostly) and clothes. The atmosphere here is more intimate and some games fans are in costume.

Exhibitors tell me that the crowds are similar to last year. The main difference between now and in earlier years is that the public are more likely to buy the smaller rather than the larger version of a specific game. As with any show, some halls are busier than others, and within a hall there are crowded and more relaxed areas.

An American exhibitor said there is no equivalent of Essen Spiel in the States. He was impressed at how at Spiel people love to play board games with each other and how everyone is friendly.

Essen spans four days, the busiest being at the weekend. On the first day people are the most experimental and will try out unusual games. Thursday and Friday visitors (families aside) tend to be enthusiasts (some are 'geeks') who know what they want.

Exhibitors are here to sell, but many also come for visibility; to make contacts; do business on the side and get noticed by talent scouts. Distributors and other large buyers are present at Essen, but it is best to book appointments before the show lest their diaries fill up.

Essen is incredible fun. Families, games geeks, everyone is catered for. Here we have a show where the glamour of Hasbro and Mattel coexists (though not as neighbours) with geeks and even goths. 

In one marvellously spartan stand sits a humble wizard peddling a home-made game with candy-coated chocolates for counters. A game that will “make an old mind young and a young mind grow”. 

What more could you ask for?

About the author

James Eadon is a director of Captica and a games inventor. With co-founder Chris Olivier, he exhibited at the Nuremberg trade show in February and appeared on BBC Dragons Den.

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