Spiel 94, Essen

Report by Ken Tidwell, November 1, 1994.

What is Spiel?

Spiel is the German word both for 'play' and 'game.' It is also the name of the largest boardgaming event in the world. Held in Essen, Germany, every October, Spiel '94 attracted over 100,000 game players, collectors, and inventors.

Spiel is held at Messe Essen, a sprawling convention complex. This year there were five large convention halls devoted to games and gaming. The entry hall held stalls for several game shops, Eurogames from France, Jumbo from the Netherlands, Gibson from the UK, Milton Bradley (sort of) from America, and a host of smaller game manufacturers and distributors. The main hall held displays by the major German game manufactures - Ravensburger, ASS, FX Schmidt, Schmidt Spiel, and the like, as well as Piatnik from Austria, White Wind from America, and many others, and several game and bookstore stalls. The third hall held computer and roleplaying game stalls. This was the only hall where American products, software and games, made anything like a reasonable showing (White Wind and the Hasbro conglomerate companies not withstanding). The fourth hall was half full of used games with the balance filled with Ludoliere from France and many more small game companies. The last hall was devoted to the entertainment of children, presumably so that their parents could go off and play games, and had several stalls with kids toys and the like.

Game company stalls varied in size and layout but all offered tables to play their latest wares and helpful, English-speaking folk to teach you the as yet untranslated rules. Most of the companies do not offer English translations for the rules of their latest games. One notable exception was Doris & Frank, who had a seperate stack of English rules that they popped into their games as you bought them.

The smaller game companies were selling their games directly. The larger companies relied on four or five large game shops set up at the show. This lead to dissappointment in the case of ASS's Route 66, which was being demonstrated by its inventor but was not available at Spiel.

What was Spiel like?

The range of new and used games available was overwhelming. Many of the European games are beautiful enough to own whether the game systems are good or not. Spotting those few that have nice bits AND good gameplay is the order of the day at Spiel.

We were lucky to have good guides in this endeavour. Mike Siggins and the Sumo Regulars showed us the ropes, provided ample advice as to the playability of various games, and introduced us to the various members of the extended Sumo family who attended the show.

We spent most of our time wandering from booth to booth trying to see everything. In between, we played lots of new games and chatted with lots of people that we had corresponded with over the last few years.

What is Essen like?

Essen is a mid-sized, modern city. Messe Essen is located on a main drag with lots of shops for snacks and all the stuff you forgot to pack. There is a subway that runs under this main drag which can take you out to dinner or back to one of the many hotels in the area.

The Gruga Park stretches for about a mile behind the Messe Center. It is a fine urban park in the style of Central Park in New York except that you have to pay to enter the Gruga Park. I suppose that's why there were no homeless folk sleeping on the benches (although, to tell the truth, I don't remember seeing any homeless people in Germany...).

Transport was easy. We stayed just down the road, close enough to walk to Messe but near the subway so we could ride in. We came to town by train and took a short (though expensive - we got caught in rush hour traffic and it took twenty minutes - later in the week we walked it in about that same time) cab ride to the hotel. Germany's trains are still great and I particularly recommend that American's travel around by train in Europe just so you realize how screwed up our own transportation system is. We flew out of the airport in Dusseldorf, which is 45 miles away or so. Since our flight was at the crack of dawn, we thought we would need to relocate to Dusseldorf the night before. The folks at the hotel assured us that this was nonsense and that they would arrange a cheap taxi for us. We said okay and ordered the taxi for an obscenely early hour to give us time to make the trip to Dusseldorf. Huge mistake. We had forgotten about the autobahn. Our taxi driver cruised to Dusseldorf at around 130 mph and we were there in less time than it had taken us to go from the train station to the hotel.

The German food was great. Jos, Siggins, and Mike Cliffard are all vegeterians and I think they had a tough time rustling up good grub. I would avoid New World food, in general, and Mexican specifically. Its quite the craze in Germany and the rest of Europe but something gets lost in the Atlantic crossing.

Almost everyone spoke a little English, which was good since I'm hopeless at languages and Jos doesn't speak German. We had a few problems at small bars/ restaraunts but a fellow patron always came to the rescue.

But what did you see at the show?

I was amazed at how slick and beautiful all the German game magazines are. Spielbox has the most amazing photography that really shows off the games. Die Poppel-Revue wasn't quite as pretty but is packed with reviews and variants. Imagine a fat, full color Sumo published bi-monthly.

Spiel & Autor is a zine published by (or inspired by?) Karin and Reinhold Witting, a prominent game designer and his wife, that is devoted to publishing the games of fledgling game designers. I picked up several copies and hope to translate several of the games. If I can get permission from the designers maybe I can include them here.

But what about the GAMES!?

Best of the Remakes:

The watchword of the show was 'reworking.' Many of the best games on offer were really rehashes of good games from the past. Many of the new games were better than the originals so the trend was not as obnoxious as it sounds.


Ave Ceasar redone (or re-redone, as the case may be) as a Grand Prix style race but with lots of the randomness removed. Each player sorts their movement cards into four stacks and can choose which stack to draw from when replenishing their hand.

Phantoms of the Ice

The first White Wind game not designed by Alan Moon. A reworking of Team which was a reworking of Slapshot (or was it the other way round?). Its ice hockey with silly cards and guess who the player named Sumo looks like? It sold like hotcakes at the show.


Dog sled racing in the Yukon. A reworking of the near-classic Men of Iron by Mike Cliffard. A must for Alan Moon fans.

Die Vikinger Kommen

A dry, strategy game from Alex Randolph. A reworking of Turnier from Parker (1976) and Claim from Jumbo (1984) according to Spielbox.

Check the Ripper

Another Alex Randolph memory game that was little more than Sagaland for adults.

Original games


Well reviewed here before and, for once, deserving of its Spiel des Jahres award.

Easter Island

Those famous heads take part in a foot race (head race?) and the heaviest of the two frontrunners wins - each turn a player may add stones to their head and move all of the other heads OR add stones to the other heads and move their head - nice bits, some strategy, impossible to take seriously, great fun.


Yet another offering from Alex Randolph. This one is a boardless boardgame about worm racing. Part puzzle, part strategy game, part kids toy.

Die Schlacht der Dinosaurier

Winner for most prolific bits - a few dozen, detailed, plastic dinos complete with attacking cavemen and pterodactyls on clear plastic stands. I've no idea how the game plays, though, but judging from the players its a light wargame.

Route 66, The Card Game

A sleeper from last year, the setting is a road trip from Chicago to L.A. Players keep accelarating the car till someone gets pulled over by the highway patrol. Tricky, silly, fun, not available for purchase at the show due to distribution problems. By Wolfgang Reidesser, the author of Ausgebremst.

Unplayed, but noteworthy

Kohl, Kies & Knete

This one won the "Most Promising That Still Lacked an English Translation When Everyone Passed Out" award. Its a deal making game by Sid Sackson. Each deal requires a certain set of the players agree to the deal. Cards can be collected to cut other players out of the deal, otherwise haggling ensues.

Hotel Life

This game of hotel management looked great and seemed to be a lot of fun but was lost in a sea of German. Unfortunate.


Which means 'Gas Guzzler.' A car racing game with a new system to model the decay of the vehicle. Accelerating or braking consumes gas - when your tank is empty, you stop (as opposed to Formule De's more complex system of vehicle breakdown).

Fugger, Welser, Medici

The new gamer's game from Doris & Frank was approached gingerly by the Sumo Regulars but Siggins eventually handed over the 99 DM (roughly US$65) and left with a copy. It looks very nice (but all D&F games do) and there may be a good game lurking in there somewhere. Look to Sumo for more info.

In Teufel's Küche

Randolph, again, this time in the Devil's Kitchen. Cute, plastic devils race to feed the Prince of Darkness, take part in cooking duels, and get blasted if they serve the wrong dish or lose a cooking duel. A kid's game with a smidgen of strategy thrown in for good measure. This one wins the Tim Trant Charming Award.

Played, unfortunately


Klaus Zock's latest in which Under Cover meets Clue and players take a hike. Each player is assigned a color and the others try to guess it. To make a guess you have to move your tokens across the desert by caravan without anyone guessing which tokens were yours. Special action cards make the game even more lively (not). In our game, a special action card came up which allowed one of the players to peek at the secret color. From there it was a race to see who could leave the table the quickest...

Komm, mit Spiel

And that, was about that. I recommend attending at your earliest convenience.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell