Essen '96 - New Guy Takes Bad Pictures

Article by Kurt Adam (

Since Mike Siggins is always dependably first to put together an fairly comprehensive run-down on each year's Essen, I felt that I should do something a little different. This was my first foray to a Spiel and so I had no idea what to expect. Armed with my camera, I decided to document my experience with pictures. As you will be able to tell, I'm not a professional photographer, so feel free to ridicule my lack of skills. After seeing what I got back from the photo lab, I know a few things that I'd do differently, but all in all I had a great experience and would recommend a trip to any gamer.

I got up at 4:00am on the Wednesday I was to leave to try to acclimate myself quickly to the six hour time difference. My flight left at 6:00pm so I figured I'd get on the plane and crash. No such luck. I got about an hour of sleep at most. My flight got in to Dusseldorf at about 10:00am the next day and didn't get to bed until 2:00am.

Once I found my hotel and got cleaned up, I grabbed my Game Cabinet press pass and headed for the Messe for the show. I was set to meet Mike Siggins at the White Wind stand at 2:00pm, but I got to the Messe just after that time with no idea where the stand was. The show takes place in six or seven halls that are just huge. The number of people everywhere was amazing along with all of the games on display. The first hall I saw was for children and had a whole bunch of activities for them from puppets to a moon bounce. K'nex had a big booth with lots of nifty show pieces. This ferris wheel was wheeled in on a hand truck as I was walking by and stood about 6 feet high. The giraffe and train are similarly massive.

I finally found the White Wind stand after wandering around for a while. The rumors were confirmed by the sign "White Wind says good bye" hanging on the stand and the clearance prices marked on everything. Business was booming the whole time. Alan Moon(right), Hans (left) and Peter Gehrmann(cut off - extreme left) were very happy with the activity. I talked a bit with Alan and waited for Mike Siggins (right) to get back. The nice thing about showing up at Essen was meeting Mike and the other Sumites that I've read things from over the past few years as well as some of the German designers.

My next stop was to see Doris & Frank. I've exchanged a bit of email with Frank, and it was nice to put a face to the email address. Both Doris and Frank were incredibly nice to me the whole time as I came by and bothered them throughout the show. I had a nice talk with Frank about his new game, Pico, as well as business in general and upcoming projects. Mike Siggins and I gave Pico a whirl. I thought it was interesting, albeit quick and light. Players get a hand of cards and play them simultaneously. The higher number beats the lower number, unless the higher number is more than twice as big. Players amass winning cards and total their points (which are the red dots at the top, not the face value). Afterwards, the sets are exchanged and played again. Highest total wins the game. The last day I got to talk with Doris a bit about her artwork and our newfound mutual love of the comic book, Bone.

Nearby I found the Moskito stand. Karl Heinz-Schmiel is a favorite designer of mine and I had hoped to chat with him a bit. However, his English is slightly worse than my German which is nonexistent, so that didn't come to pass. I did get Peter to try to talk Karl out of one of the inflatable mosquitoes that were hanging on the booth (and can be seen in the upper left of the photo). Apparently Karl has been asked about this so many times that he is going to try to find more for next year and sell them at his stand. No, I didn't get one. Early news on the new Moskito release was that it was going to be a children's memory game. The game turned out to be Sing Sing and is indeed a children's memory game. Of course, German children play rather different games than American children. I picked up a copy of this one. In it, one of the players wears a blindfold while another removes bars that are covering convicts. The person with the blindfold tries to figure out which bar was removed. If he does, he gets to be the remover. The object is to get three convicts out of jail by removing all of the bars covering them without getting caught. A tricky game that I'm still deciding whether I like or not.

Hans im Glück were riding on the Spiel de Jahres win for El Grande with an all out promo display. Head honcho Bernd Brunhoffer had a large area set up with games, with a giant version of the game to lure in the patrons. Also, a number of people were dressed up as Spaniards. These people walked around the fair drumming up interest and lounged in the booth that was set aside for them with the table you see. (I'm the second from the left in the shot. Alan insisted I be in the picture.)

Not to be out-done, Kosmos were happily sitting on their Settlers success. They've started up a Settlers of Catan fan club, Club Catan. They're marketing all kinds of things from t-shirts to hats and pins. One of the big sellers of the show was the new card game for two players (photos: 1, 2, 3, 4). It sold out by Saturday. The graphics and production are really nice and it looks to be a good game. I picked up a copy, but haven't had a chance to try it yet.

On Friday, Mike and I stopped by the Franjos stand and tried out Pow Wow (photos: 1, 2). Pow Wow is a kind of abstract little game in which Indians are moved back and forth around a teepee. Each Indian has a corresponding card and the person who has the card of the Indian that crosses the finish line first wins. I picked it up since I enjoyed it, but Mike felt it was good but not great.

The used game dealers were highlight of the show for me. There was a whole host of them together in one hall with stacks and stacks of everything from the terrible to the sublime. A good portion of my game-buying budget went to these guys.

Jean du Poel, who brought us Carabande was displaying his newest handmade creation, Aeronautika. The game concerns a biplane race from London to France. It is an amazing looking game with 6 handmade wooden biplanes, an Eiffel Tower and a premium price (the deluxe edition, which was even more expensive included a hand crafted box and a cloud as an additional obstacle).

Speaking of handmade, the newest game from the designer who goes way overboard lived up to his reputation. The little books pictured are wooden with inlaid gold. All of the fleur-de-lis are gold inlaid into the wooden board. The white pawns are sculpted stone which have been painted. This game was also being demonstrated in a life-size live version. I have no idea what it's about.

One game that I got to try that definitely underwhelmed the group I played with was Downtown. It's a kind of Metropolis-like game. The Germans who played it seemed to like it and it was selling well, so maybe there's something uniquely Teutonic about it.

I had another whirlwind-no-sleep flight back on Monday and had to wait until Tuesday to get my luggage with all my games in it. I didn't suffer too much from jet lag, mainly I was just exhausted from going full-stop for four days trying to make sure I saw everything I could. It was an unforgettable trip.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell