24 Exits From Mulheim

by Mike Clifford

The first thing you need to know about Spiel '93 are the imperative purchases. In no particular order, they are:

Was Sticht (Moskito). A routine 'trumps and tricks' card game, but beautifully dressed up and with a clever method of card distribution. The downside is that it takes almost two hours to play. Having no card playing background to speak of, I was suitably impressed, but I suspect the Whisters amongst you might soon drift away.

World Cup Tournament Football Game (Australian Design Group). As you would expect from Harry Rowland's company, a clever, strategic soccer game utilising both the World Cup and Olympic competitions. However, initial impressions were of despair, and it was only after a perusal of the designer's notes that the game's inner secrets became clear. Imagine a cross between Wembley and Days Of Decision and you're almost there.

Rette Sich Wer Kann (Walter Muller). This was probably the hit of the show. Superbly produced, tons of laughs (for most), high on interaction and finished in a hour and a bit (with six players). This is what Flusspiraten should have been but wasn't. In a nutshell: Place your pirates and captain in one of the six boats, and then negotiate Diplomacy-style to move the boats and keep the crew intact. Points are scored when the pirates land. Wunderbar.

Ice Hockey 92 (Templum). Okay, so I know printing and the like costs fluppence in the former Eastern block, but the price of this tour de force (about 14 quid) is a joke. Packaged like the classic 3M sports games, the box unfolds to reveal a scale ice rink, resplendent with dials, buttons, penalty boxes and Lord knows what else. Two full-colour teams are provided (you can order others), and although the game takes a while to play (non- statistical, but the players are graded), it is well worth the effort. Ice Hockey is from the same geezer who bought you Peleton, another under-priced endeavour worthy of your attention. Perhaps Arthur Scargill should turn his attention away from coal imports and look at the potential damage to the economy caused by this dissident mob. Available by mail from Adam Spiel.

Freight Train (White Wind). Not as good as Elfenroads (what is?), but superior, in my opinion, to Santa Fe, and a solid addition to a series now highly collectable (says Moonie). Detractors couldn't really muster up any serious argument against this card game, and I suspect it will get played a lot because of time (maximum one and half hours) and lack of complexity.

Nizza (Schmidt Spiel) I didn't like this race game at all, but it was gone 1am when we finished. Tons of little bits, and a cleverish movement system did not disguise the total lack of interaction, and the end game moving from a boat to a waiting helicopter was a farrago.

Away from the indubitable pleasures of game playing, this year's show turned out to be a disaster for many retailers. A chap selling African artifacts opposite our own Lionel/White Wind stand failed to sell a single item over the four days. Even accepting that the market in Germany for pictures of native tribesmen is probably limited, his experiences were certainly not isolated. I suspect that the organisers will find a depleted contingent willing to cough up the not inconsiderable expense of participating in 1994. Certainly Lionel will have to think twice.

One of the reasons for poor sales were 'repeat' customers. The exhibition seems to attract the same crowd every year, and 'old stock' is unlikely to move. As an example, I can cite my own experience, when in 1992 Lionel sold approximately 120 items from their sports game range (ziploc bags and all). This year, we shifted less than 20, although the Triathlon game Die Eisernen Männen did as well as most (but 50% down on original estimates). The multi-nationals will probably take a different view, as they are not selling product directly, but an estimated attendance of 10,000 for the first two days was comparatively poor, and the Saturday and Sunday crowd, traditionally, buy very little.

Broadcaster and former pro soccer player Roger Corrie, who was manning the Lionel booth, estimated that only 15% of those through the door had bought anything at all. Gone are the days, apparently, when devoted gamers would be staggering about under the weight of a dozen or so new purchases. As far as I could make out, only the current (but soon to be ex) European distributor for French operation Eurogames was having it off. But then again, he packaged five games for 50DM (approximately 20 sovs). This was the one genuine bargain at the show along with Vlad the Impaler's half decent Hacker for DM25 (formerly 69DM).

I get the impression that the people behind Spiel would like the small fry to disappear and leave the floor to Milt Bradley, Chuck Ravensburger and Colonel Tom Parker. If that is their choice, it would become little more than a toy fair, and the true games enthusiast would exit stage left. This might then leave the door open for Dutch operator 999 Games to exploit their Eindhoven event held during the last weekend in May. It could prove a viable alternative to the Essen expo, and because of its closer proximity to the UK, might attract large numbers from these shores. Essen built its not inconsiderable reputation on the opportunity it provided for independent games companies to peddle their wares. If the likes of Moskito, Rostherne, Walter Muller, White Wind, etc. are forced to reconsider their commitment, Spiel would be history.

Mike Clifford

On to the Gamer's Notebook or back to Spiel 93.

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