Alone, without a group to commandeer a table and mandate the speaking of English, I wound up playing very little in four days. I consoled myself with the hope I'd know better at future Essens - until others, far more experienced than I, reported the same experience. Boardgame News reporter and seasoned Essenite Dale Yu:
When I'm at Essen, I honestly don't get a lot of time to play games. I rarely demo a game to completion at a booth, partly because the guys at the stand don't really want to play a full game as it's inefficient for sales and partly because there simply isn't time to play all 150 games that I'm interested in! [...] I'm guessing that I played seven or eight games to completion during the fair.
Essen showed me a society where tabletop games have become truly - beyond argument, with no room for qualification - mainstream.
For anything other than shopping, Essen, the biggest tabletop gaming event in the world, is a poor second to any ordinary gaming convention. Even for previewing hot new releases, you'd have better luck staying in the U.S. and hosting your own Protospiel playtest con. If you play with the truly cool kids, wangle an invite to designer Alan Moon 's annual Gathering of Friends in Columbus, Ohio, where big-time designers bring prototypes of their latest work. This is the way real insiders see new games - or so I'm told.
Essen is Inspiring
For four days I wandered the Essen Game Fair, oblivious and slack-jawed like a poleaxed barmaid. Discovering the magnitude of my ignorance was instructive, if not exactly fun. More on the plus side, Essen showed me a society where tabletop games have become truly - beyond argument, with no room for qualification - mainstream.
I recall talking with a manager at Wizards of the Coast in 1994, in the early days of Magic's success. He said Magic cards in circulation had recently surpassed the huge total for the decades-old family game UNO.
"Congratulations!" I said. "This must be a big moment."
But the manager was nonchalant: "It's just one milestone on the path."
"The path to what? What other games do you think Magic can beat? Chess?"
He chuckled. "Baseball."
Could any intellectual pastime really overtake a major sport? Probably not. But if you visit the Essen Game Fair - and I recommend you do - the idea may seem less farfetched. At Essen you will comprehend a world of gaming much larger, and more overwhelming, than you ever imagined.
The 2011 International SPIEL takes place October 20-23 in Essen, Germany. Writer and game designer Allen Varney has written over 70 articles for The Escapist.