Essen Observations

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The Essen International Spieletag is the Mecca of board game events, and this weekend I finally had the chance to make the pilgrimage. So, what did I learn in the name of fun and professional development? 

There are a LOT of games at Essen…

It’s never been easier to publish a game, and at Essen the proof is all around you. Board Game Geek’s Spiele ’18 Preview listed over 1200 new games scattered across the 6 halls. Frankly, it’s a little overwhelming.

There is also a lot of repetition in the hobby game industry. Lots of Euros with fiddly personal player boards covered with cubes. Lots of testosterone-pumped miniatures games. Waaay too many zombie games. If there’s a genre or mechanic you love, you’ll find it at Essen — but it may not be that different from five other games that are already on your shelf.

… but people are buying them.

For all the talk of how many games are being published, there are plenty of people out there ready to buy them. 190,000 people showed up at this year’s Spiele — almost as many as live here in Tampere full-time.

essen haba
Happy Haba hordes.

There are hobby gamers in this horde, but Essen really belongs to the families. They are all over the event, and they are there to buy. I saw some families leaving the show with sacks of games, and some with just one big game. (If it was one game, it was usually Klask.)

I think of myself as an omni-gamer, but the Essen families support a variety of games that puts my tastes to shame. From heavy strategy games to preschool toys — there were customers for every kind of game in the hall. It makes me optimistic for the long-term health of the broader board game history.

Asmodee had the floor presence…

Within the hobby industry, the recently-sold Asmodee was unquestionably the big gorilla. Its booths occupied a good quarter of one of the larger halls. It had dozens of new games on display, many of them heralded with giant wall displays.

essen orbis
I think you could pay for a print run with the cost of that wall decoration.

Asmodee also emphasized their digital side, showing off their many conversions of board games to consoles and mobile games. With their combination of brands and offerings, they are clearly the force to be reckoned with in the hobby game side of the industry. Their area was massively popular, but at the same time I had trouble connecting with it. As with Essen in general, it was just a little too much.

… but Blue Orange had my heart, and my wallet.

If I took anything away from the whole shebang, it’s that my tastes have shifted over the last couple of years. My play habits have shifted from spending hours with the game group to spending an hour after dinner with family. I want lighter rules, faster games, and as much theme and interaction as can be packed into 30 to 60 minutes.

I walked away from Essen with a carry-on full of light, clever games. A lot of them were from Blue Orange Games. We’ve been playing a lot of Kingdomino lately — I should write a review — and I first stopped by to grab the Age of Giants expansion. I also had my eye on Blue Lagoon, a new game from a long-time favorite designer. But Blue Orange also had a surprise up its sleeve for me.

I wasn’t expecting to meet Planet. I’ll have to write more about this game later, but it combines simple game play (draft tiles) with a fun theme (build and populate your very own planet). It’s fast, the big chunky planet cores are delightful to hold, and my kids love the animal art. At the same time, there are clever strategies in which tiles you draft and how you connect them in a 3-D space.

Building planets and winning awesome animals — can it get any cooler than that?

Planet is the kind of accessible innovation that excites me at a player and as a designer. And despite all the noise, crowds, and unnecessary zombie games, going to Essen was worth it just to stumble over a game that blew my mind.

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