The Mecca of Gaming

Personal exposé by Annie Shillabeer (Shilly@CompuServe.COM).

Part One: The Monday before Essen

It's the Monday before Essen and I'm sitting here at my computer thinking that I must be crazy. Why on earth am I going to Essen?

For folks who have never experienced The Mecca of Gaming at Essen, it is just that: an experience. A huge yearly event held in The Messe Essen, Essen, Germany. The Messe (or Meeting Hall) is conveniently located next to The Gruga, Germany's largest city park. The Messe has 90,000m of exhibition space and parking for 17,000 cars. So there are an awful lot of games on show, to play, purchase or just slobber at.

Behind me, stacked on shelves are games, quite a few from last year at Essen. They are just sitting on the shelves quietly. There are the ones that I meant to play but haven't as yet. The games I got because they were so cheap but I haven't touched them either, yet. Then there were the ones I had to have, the ones I played once in Essen, got home, took them to a friend's to play and would sit there blankly as I had completely forgotten how they were played. They were the new releases. I have been meaning to get the rules for them, but you know how it is! Then there are the ones still in shrink-wrap. I haven't a clue why they are unopened. Then there are the ones I had to have because they are by the same designer and I like to make up a set. I really must play them soon. Then I look at the games from previous Essens and the awful thing is, it's the same old story. This is ridiculous. I know it's not just me as I have seen with my own eyes other gamers' homes. I can assure you all it is a disease.

There are games from a few years ago, in shrink-wrap, without rules. This can't be real. I need to do something drastic here.

It has occurred to me that the ones that do get played are the ones that get given as Christmas presents because they get played over the Christmas period. And, by the end of the holidays, the game has become known and usually liked. Mind you, I regret giving my nephew, Dominic, Iron Dragon. He's 11 and he really enjoys beating me. We always try to get a game in when I troop down to Somerset. He's heavily into Talisman at the moment, to the point of playing it at the breakfast table, "Best I get some practice in there quickly." Don't get me wrong as there are a lot of games that I purchased at Essen last year that do get a regular airing: X Pasch, Wizard, Premiere, and most of the games from the Secondhand Store do, as well. However, I need to do something drastic. It's either buy games for everyone but me or don't buy as many games.

I can already see one problem. We won't have our wonderful spacious motor home this year, which is a real shame as I loved that last year. We'll be in a car. Mind you, I have made an arrangement with someone who is going over in a van: just in case. I shall see how I fared upon my return from Essen. Wish me luck!

Part Two : After Essen

So there we were, Essen: the journey was good. Not that one of the party would agree with me as she (I promised not to mention her name) [Ken: and Annie makes it as far as the next paragraph before she lets the name slip out...] suffered ever so slightly on the sea crossing, but I won't go into details about that. Driving from Ostend was a dream of a journey, smooth, clear and loud as we blasted out some good old punk goodies to sing along to. [Ken: Strange. My dream journeys always involve cows that want to discuss the performance of various Java virtual machines...] Funnily enough, I think we passed a gamer whilst we were driving through Belgium. He looked like Mike Eggleton and was standing at the side of the road with his thumb stuck out.

The first day was a mixture of meeting old friends and the awful realization that, yes, I indeed could see a whole load of games that I NEEDED TO OWN. That's the horrifying thing about walking around and seeing games I'd forgotten I needed. Ah well, I figured a few games could fit in the kitchen cupboard. I never use that fondue set any way. And then, of course, I could, in theory, store some in the bathroom, possibly. By the end of the first hour, spent in the second hand games area, all my plans had gone horribly wrong. By the end of the first day I was seriously worried about car space and had started considering leaving Sylvia in Essen, with a view to picking him up the following year.

Played Konsern, which is the new Fanfor Verlag game. It is a share game [Ken: as in stocks], different enough from X Pasch to make it worth buying. You need 200 points to win, which is achieved by influence within companies on the boards. There is one less board than players, but additional boards can be added by playing a card. The overall view seemed to be that it could be quite a vicious game and there appeared to be a lot of scope in the game. Easy to be knocked down by an opponent, yet not hard to build your position up again. I liked it.

Fanfore Velag has also bought out an expansion for X Pasch: extra cards, which add a little more to the original game. The interesting twist is that the expansion was offered at a set price but you also had the option to start with a lower base price and add a number from a die roll with the number representing the number of additional DM to be paid.

db spiel, the backpack people, have a new main game out called Iron Lady [Ken: I either missed a REALLY limited edition game that I will regret for years to come or Annie means Iron Horse.] and a smaller one called Texas. As yet I have not managed to play them. I did play ShowManager, which is Premiere (an older db game) re-released by Queens; it seems to be more or less the same as the original. I do like the db spiel games: Premiere, Al Capone and Timbuktu being among my faves. [Ken: The two new ones are quite good; particularly, Texas but I'm partial to the topic.]

Watch out for Boppit, by MB, a very silly toy which seems fun the first few times you play it, but I'm sure will begin to grate on the nerves for the majority of people. I blame that American Moon for making us all walk about humming the annoying (but catchy!) tune Boppit bleats out. (I did notice that whenever there was a commotion, Mr Moon was there.) I can see it as a late at night 'toy' that comes out between Bausack and Loopin' Louis. Of course, I for one will be getting one and taking it to conventions with me, heh, heh. [Ken: Shilly up for the late night games? For shame!]

Bonanza, the bean game, one of Amigo's games, was a success with us and we played it quite a few times in Essen. We also played it as an eight-player game, even though it is only meant for up to seven with the expansion, but it was very late in the evening. There were a few objections to my choice of deciding who started. I rolled one of my dice earrings, which excluded two of the gamers in the first place and also didn't have a number three. It was number three that complained; sorry, Tony.

By Saturday, we were even more concerned about space in the car and started going into "It's going to be a problem so it might as well be a huge problem" mode. However, I have to say, I had bought far fewer games than someone who shall remain nameless had. [Ken: I believe said nameless person was riding in the same car.] So we took the option of loading some games on a friend's van. It meant getting them at a later date, but that was a small price to pay as it meant we could take Sylvia back to Britain. [Ken: apparently Sylvia is not the game buying culprit, having been cleared by those 'in the know.'] It's a good job our van driving friend only bought one game at Essen, really. Well, he bought one game and two puzzles, to be exact.

I had a snigger as we left the fair one evening. There was this van which was so jam packed with games inside it was unbelievable. On closer inspection, it not only had about a dozen people in it but it was Brit gamers! I caught a glimpse of Merfyn Lewis behind piles of boxes, uncomfortable, but so happy! [Ken: These guys all piled into Mike Clifford's van and drove to Essen from England. Sounds like fun (of a sort) and they all seemed in high spirits. Aside from Roger, who was doing the accounting for Clifford's latest scheme. I don't believe accountants are allowed to be in high spirits. Upsets the figures.]

A highlight of the fair was getting one of Dom's books signed by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. That will really make his day. I was also lucky enough to meet up with Ken Tidwell and his wife, Jos. [Ken: I've editted out the bits where Shilly laid it in thick here. Thanks, anyhow, though. Blush. The real scoop is that Shilly kept ignoring me until I cornered her and demanded an explanation! She was kind enough to feign memory loss and never even mentioned my suddenly greying hair. Surprisingly enough, Shilly gives poor old Tom Jolly the cold shoulder here, too. We all bumped into him in the American Lounge, errr, Alan Moon's hotel, that is.]

Doris and Frank's stand was extremely popular; so much so that you had to book in if you wanted to play their new release, Ursuppe. Lovely dobbers and nice and bright. Unfortunately, time did not allow us to give it a proper go, but it seems fun.

Played Quartier Latin, new out from Daggit, which has rings of Wucherer before you even play the game. The game mechanics are similar; call me wrong but I felt it was tooooo similar. The English translation of the rules was a bit dicey and so I'm hoping they may change the game when we know the rules exactly.

Typical that I had just purchased the newly released Wucherer only the same day.

Franjos have got a game out called Mark, which is a funky little game based on re-cycling. It has been brought out in protest of all the hard work done by Mark's in The Puma Association. (Although this may be just a rumor.) I liked the game. It has unusual game pieces consisting of small jam jars, bottle tops, dodgy little plastic red egg cup's and pieces of card. We played it in teams, not a game stipulation, but it was fun. It was just a shame their stall had such an unfortunate placing in the fair really. I'm sure the quality of their games saved the day, though.

A snippet of marvellous news from the fair is that my new expansion will be released at Ramsdencon, Essex, UK. There were so many expansion kits at the fair. It was expansion's for everything. I mean, expansions for expansions, pleeease! [Ken: well, it is an expanding market, after all...]

Anyway, I am releasing, without the game, a very limited expansion of just 8 copies. Missing in the expansions will be some of the vital pieces you need, thus enabling me to bring out an expansion for the expansion next year as well. It will save a lot of time buying all those other game expansions as you may have all you need in one package. Of course it may not suit every game and the colors may not be entirely to everyone's taste, but that's the way the expansion market goes. Ask me in five years time when there are no games being marketed only expansions and I will give a small self satisfied smirk.

The fair was heaving by Saturday as even more crowds poured in to see, play and buy games. The children's hall was as packed as ever. They had one of those wonderful spiral metal things that you can be strapped in and spun around at high speed. Ideal after a good old helping of Essen special hot dog and potato salad. Unfortunately, I never managed to have a go as the queues were so long, although I did queue once, but felt a little guilty when all these children were behind me in the queue. I just couldn't do it.

The children's hall is just so much fun. If you have children: take them. It's fun, fun, fun. There is so much for them to do: face painting, small stilts, games that involved stuffing huge cardboard boxes into real cars, a mini adventure course. To stand in the hall and watch them playing was great, refreshing.

I was very interested in Spiel fur Blinde und Sehende, run by Erila and her husband, whose name escapes me, who have been customizing games for the blind for 10 years. They deal mostly with Ravensburger and currently have 27 customized games they sell. Popular titles like Heimlich & Co, Maulwurf Company and Labyrinth. The games are covered with a plastic coating which has raised lines for edges and outlines. Any numbers or words on boards are in Braille, and cards are laminated. They do not currently sell to the UK, but would be willing to if there was an interest. The games do work out to be substantially more expensive. For example, Maulwurf is 58 pounds, working at an exchange rate of 2.80.

The fair was brilliant. There were lot's of old faces and lots of new ones. It was a shame that Essen clashed with Gaelcon (Dublin, Ireland) this year. I still swear I saw the Gaelcon committee at the Amigo stand on Friday. But by the time I got over there they had vanished. They definitely were not leprecons. Good for them if they did do both con's.

At least the English team had a chance to reciprocate on last years Intergame result by taking the title this year! More details on that at a later date.

We left Essen on Sunday in a car bursting at the edges, jam packed with shrink-wrapped games and games without English rules. I really wonder where they will be living for the next few years [Ken: or, more importantly, where will Shilly live now that the games have her apartment?] I did try not to buy as many games as I have previously done. Looking at the piles in the living room there are not that many that I really bought for myself. Of course, it does depend on how you define 'not that many.'

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell