Dirty Little Secrets of Essen Revisited

Article by Ken Tidwell.

Brian Bankler reveals a series of Dirty Little Secrets of Essen in his review of that august occassion. Several of Brian's revelations are spot on but others call for a bit of clarification. Being the editor of this here rag, I wuz elected to do the job.

You Can Get By With English

It is difficult to get by without knowing a bit of German in restaurants, bars, and shops. Not that it is impossible or even all that difficult but, for an American used to an entire continent where damn near everyone either speaks English or is willing to try very hard, it is incredibly uncomfortable to find yourself in a situation where everyone thinks you're just a little bit tetched because that's the only language you speak (and it doesn't help matters when you start launching into run on sentences, either). I suspect that Brian suffered from just this sort of a shock.

The best example I have experienced was trying to order red cabbage for dinner for my very much vegetarian wife. It is a very common German dish. Inconceivable that the establishment in question would not have it on offer. We knew the words for 'red' and 'cabbage' but were having the hardest time. Luckily, someone from the bar spoke a bit of English and was able to puzzle together what we were saying. The problem: its called blue cabbage in German.

Now, that said, someone has always been on hand to leap in and help us. And just as often we've run into folks that spoke very good English. Such as the very nice cab driver who ran us all the way to the next town so that we could catch our train, pointed out the dolphinarium (which Jos had tragicly missed out on), and nattered on with us about his grandkids. To tell the truth I more often end up with the food that I expected in Germany than I do in England.

At the show, the real problem is that the booths are very, very busy. Switching to English amidst the noise and hubbub is quite a bit more difficult than striking up a conversation with any German speaker who might be handy. The English folk don't have any truck with that sort of nonsense. They've been living next to folks who speak other languages for thousands of years and they've learned to leap in with both feet. So while the Americans are hanging out on the fringes looking shy, they are seated at the tables learning to play the new games!

My version of this secret: "You don't speak the language. Get over it and have fun."

The Flea Market should be your First Stop

This is particularly good advice for first timers and for heavy duty collectors. After my third visit, I find that I visit the flea market to pick up the few things my friends asked me to look for and that's about it. I've bought most of the games that I'm interested in (cost/benefit taken into account, of course) and I have more fun seeing the new games and chatting with the designers.

Bring Lots of Empty Space to Carry Stuff

Truer words were never spoken. There are several corralaries to this one, however, that Brian mentioned at the show and has now neglected to mention. I will include them here:

Buy the Game

You will never see it so cheap, again (unless it is from Hans im Glück, in which case you are suffering an early adopters fee that will be covered by next years free give-away). And even if you decide you don't like the game, some other gamer in your immediate home geography will most likely be willing to cover your costs in order to avoid lengthy mail order delays. It is very, very hard to go wrong here.

If You Mind the Bumps and Dings, Pack Wisely

I find it almost impossible to get everything all the way back to California without a few dings and scratches. Such is life.

If you are otherwise inclined, you will do well to pack some bubble wrap (damned hard to find in Europe) or locate a source of boxes upon arrival.

There Isn't Much Space to Game

No. There is quite a lot of space to game but there are two problems with that space. One is that you must play the new games on offer from the various publishers. The second is that there are a great many people trying to do this all at the same time.

Once again, the Brits seem to have no problem at all staying in games all day long. Siggins is a wonder and Mike Clifford is frightful to behold as they slide right in and start playing. Be bold but not rude. It is also very much worth your while to approach the booths run by self-publishing game designers. The competition is less fierce but often the games are more creative and interesting. Who knows when you'll spot the next Doris & Frank or Bambus Spiele?

Gaming back at your hotel seems to vary in difficulty. Be sure to check when you book. The hotel staff will be aware of Essen Spiel and will no doubt have a policy about public gaming. Gaming in your room can be cozy (although Alan Moon seemed to enjoy that option this year).

Saturday and Sunday are Basically Useless

I am tentatively inclined to agree. Brian got the worst of it this year, though. In most years, Essen is timed to coincide with a local holiday (which one? Anybody, anybody...) so Thursday and Friday are normally very busy, particularly with kids (who arrive by the busload). This year the holiday fell over the week after Essen. So all of the kid traffic was shifted to match all of the working folk traffic and the result was astonishing.

Even in the good years we are talking 120,000 people through the door here, kids. A really good Origins might bring out 7,000 and that would be a grand crowd for an American con. They are different beasts and, hence, need different handling.

What can you do with Saturday and Sunday, then? Saturday morning (not afternoon, since everything closes early on Saturday) you can hit the Toys'R'Us in downtown. This is not like your local store. This one is stocked to the gills with German games! And the discount bin is selling off last year's hits for five bucks a pop. There is also a large department store near the train station that has a great games section. I've often been able to locate games there that did not turn up at the show.

Sunday is bargain day. Anything that hasn't sold by Sunday afternoon starts plummeting in price. On paper this sounds like good fun but in practice your bags will be full after the run to Toys'R'Us. We always head home around noon on Sunday now.

The Smoke

Europeans (and I'm speaking very generally here so it won't be true of everyone) have no compunctions against smoking cigarettes just about anywhere. The convention floor can be very hard on anyone with even slight respiratory problems. My wife keeps her visits confined to the mornings, before the fog builds up. Mike Siggins has also had to cut down his floor time and spends more time in the relatively smoke free press room, an option not open to most duffers. Tim Trant has decided that he had best not risk it until the smoke is brought under control. I was raised in a cloud of second hand smoke so I tend to lean into it and carry on. Even so, I always leave Essen with a sore throat and red eyes.

The Restaurant in the Convention Hall is Terrible

Yes. And, unless you live in Silicon Valley, the food prices are going to seem terribly high (everything is expensive here - we recently passed New York and Honolulu on housing prices and everything else descends from there...). Also, avoid the Mexican food, which is not a slight against the Germans because I would give you the same advice for all of Europe. Finally, if you are Vegan then either pack camp food or stay at home. Vegetarians should seek out Asian food or stick to the bread and cheese. Pescetarians (eaters of fish but no other critters) will be okay. As Brian says, the phrase books are useless as aids to ordering real food. This may be due to the regional nature of German food. Dunno.

Most Tips are Small

Brian must have been talking to the English contingent. If you plan on eating, drinking, or hanging out in the same place for several nights, it is in your best interests to grease the wheels. Universally true and even more so in Europe where waitrons often get the shaft (according to several reliable first hand accounts).

Airport Security

Security in European airports is very tight, and for good reasons. You will be passing through with an unbelievable number of boxes filled with odd bits and bobs. If you get called out and have to sort through it all, try to keep a good face on it. The threat is real and the intrusion minor.

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