Posted Wednesday, 2-Nov-2016
Going to the world’s largest board games convention was an amazing experience that honestly felt like a pilgrimage of board gaming. If you want to plan a trip, here’s the top ten things I learned.
By Calvin Wong
Updated October 2018
Even though it’s commonly referred to as Essen, the convention’s proper name is the International Spieltage, or Spiel.
An hour’s drive from the border with the Netherlands and forty minutes by train from Düsseldorf, Essen is a small town in West Germany where the bus ride into the city is mostly taken up by fields, windmills (the big white triblades, not the traditional wooden ones) and plenty of cows.
The streets are empty and walk-able, major traffic is non-existent, and food (and beer!) are cheap.
However, this does mean that some things don’t apply: Credit cards are not readily taken, especially inside the convention itself – bring plenty of cash.
While inside the hall, everyone speaks English (to a lesser or greater degree) this doesn’t necessarily hold true in the town, especially in key areas like train stations. The Google Translate app with its ability to instantly translate signs and maps by holding your phone up to it is invaluable.
WiFi isn’t available in the convention hall: A SIM-Karte is needed for mobile data. We chose Deutsche Telekom (their logo is a large pink T, and there is a store at the central Berliner Platz train station in the attached shopping mall) which sells 1GB of prepaid internet for 15 euro and free calls and texts to other DT numbers – meaning if you travel in a group, it’s easy to stay in touch.
If you use it just for tweeting and looking up the hot releases, 1GB is plenty for four days. Save the unboxing videos for the AirBNB room.
This is the crowd building up around 9:30 at the entrance to Hall 3 (the main hall). The coat check and bathroom queues must have been correspondingly huge. (pre-buy your tickets, people!)
If however you don’t mind large throngs and want to be caught up in the excitement of getting in just as the doors open, go for it. There weren’t any games that sold out in 5 minutes on day 1, though, so waiting in line for opening isn’t a pressing need per se.
If you arrive just a scant 30 minutes later, you get to leisurely check your coat and scarf and stroll into the halls with ease.
Speaking of timing:
The humble IKEA blue bag is an icon of durability, capacity, and crowd-friendly carrying.
Yes, carrying 20 pounds of games does get tiring but the straps don’t cut into your fingers the way plastic bags will, and rolling luggages are bulky and difficult to maneuver. While even on the most crowded of days there was still plenty of space to trolley luggage bags around, sometimes if you want to stand in a crowded space it can be a floor hog.
IKEA bags circumvent the issue by being easy to keep in front of yourself or swing out of the way of oncoming crowds. If you move slowly a gentle bump is easily excused and everyone at the convention is very polite.
Try the brutwurst. That is all.
While the temptation is to go and buy all the new hotness or get great discounts on games you’ve had your eye on for a while, a board game convention is a great place to find things that would never have been on your radar otherwise.
1,200 games were released at Essen in 2016 alone – there’s going to be a few hidden gems! Use the time to demo games you wouldn’t normally try, or take a chance on a cheap game that isn’t available in your home country. Fill the holes in your collection – maybe you need some short filler card games, or a dexterity game about throwing rainbows around.
If you have a partner or significant other who isn’t quite as into gaming as you are, Essen is a great time for them to find something that catches their interest – and if they end up buying it, chances are they’ll be more proactive about getting it to the table too!
Euro bills will mysteriously vanish from your wallet while in the vicinity of this booth. Do not under any circumstances approach while holding money.
Between being distracted by something shiny, the large crowds, and sudden openings of demo tables, it can take a while to actually move between (or even through!) one of the 7 halls of the convention. Even though they’ve recently renovated the hall, you’ll still need to account for foot traffic. Plan accordingly, especially bathroom breaks.
Toilets are kept very clean and the lines move quickly, even at the women’s. The men’s bathrooms don’t have a line for urinals so if you just need to go in and out it’s easy and quick.
I managed to save 5 pounds of weight luggage by punching my games and throwing away the excess sprues and cardboard inserts. This is weight you can save on not having to pay excess baggage fees!
It has been two weeks since the convention ended and life hasn’t quite been the same.
Everyone I met was lovely. In the 36 hours I was in that hall, I didn’t have a single negative incident. (Okay I waited in the wrong line at the brutwurst stall once.)
I expected to be overwhelmed by the spectacle or drained by the crowds, but every moment was a lovely buzz of affirmation – I am surrounded by my people. Everyone here is joined by their love of gaming, and that energy bouys you. Your feet may hurt sure, your arms may be tired and maybe you’re a little thirsty – but you’re surrounded by thousands of people who share your passion, your interest, and your love – and the fruits of their labor surround you everywhere you go.
That buzz still lingers to this moment, nearly three weeks later.
If you can make it, go to Essen. It’s so wonderful.
Published by BoardGamePrices.com