Day two and beyond at EssenAfter a good night’s sleep and a victory by two falls and a submission over the hotel room’s shower I got dressed, only to discover I had not packed any underpants with me. Socks I had aplenty, but pants had I none, other than the pair I was wearing. Still, my philosophy on packing has always been “if we forget anything we can always buy it over there”, though I realise this does not necessarily apply if, for you, the most important thing to pack when going on holiday is a jar of Marmite.
With my smelly pants cunningly hidden under my beautifully laundered trousers I made my way down to breakfast, which was of the continental buffet style. With a cholesterol level of 6.9 at the last count (back in February) I am not meant to have bacon and eggs anyway, so the absence of a traditional fry-up didn’t worry me – not when there were artery hardening offerings such as croissants on offer.
I shared my breakfast table with a Chinese woman. It is said that smacking one’s lips whilst eating is regarded as the polite thing to do in China as it demonstrates enjoyment of the food. If that is so, this woman was being extremely polite, even by British standards. I’m not sure what the cultural implications of slurping your fruit salad are in China but she was doing that with a vengeance too. At least she didn’t sniff.
Having finished breakfast it was into town and the local Kaufhof to buy some pants. Kaufhof is a department store that uses the galleria concept. About 80% of its goods seemed to be aimed at women and of the 20% aimed at men, none seemed to be aimed at men who wear underpants. Socks, yes. Women’s underwear – lots of it, and believe me, I was tempted, but I just don’t have the figure for it these days (besides, what if I had been run over by a bus?)
So, I exited Kaufhof and ambled round Essen shopping centre which, at 9:30am on a Friday morning, was virtually deserted. I eventually found a store that sold German pants and, remarkably, they are very similar to British pants, even down to the fact that they are made in some sweatshop in Asia. I was expecting lederhosen or something, but was happy to find good old cotton boxers. My first purchase at Essen, and they didn’t even require a rules translation!
Following the example of Markus Welbourne of JKLM Games
, I decided to walk to the exhibition hall. Armed with a map that only showed the major roads I was beginning to worry that I had missed my destination when I was still yomping down Bismarckstrasse some 30 minutes later, but I eventually found the place. The first thing that greeted me was a poster for a gig due to take place at the exhibition hall in November featuring Iron Butterfly, Nazareth, Ten Years After and UFO. I had been walking for so long that time had wrapped round on itself and we were back in the seventies.
Now, here’s a question for you. I’ve listed the aforesaid dinosaur bands in alphabetical order, but which of them was headlining, do you think? Answer at the bottom of the page.
I queued up at the ticket office and handed over 25 euros for my 4-day ticket. This initially confused the ticket man, as there were only three days of the fair left, but he soon twigged my intention and I did not have to resort to pidgin German (“Achtung! Spitfire! Schnell, schnell! Four day ticket, bitte”) or the international language of signing a la Una Stubbs and Lionel Blair.
Finally, I was in. This was my second visit to the fair but the first time, five years or so back, I had mostly been tied to the Small Furry Creatures stand whilst this time I was free to wander, browse and maybe even try a few games. Everyone says you will be gobsmacked the first time you enter the Grugahalle and see just how big the place is and how many gamers there are there, and this would probably be the case were it not that everyone
says you will be gob-smacked, so you are prepared for it. However, it is still impressive. There are about 12 halls filled with stands. Most of the halls are comfortably large enough to fit in two football pitches side by side and indeed one of them seemed to consist largely of football games, including a couple that look suspiciously like my own design, Total Football
. Perhaps my Tresham-like 20-year gestation period for this game has been a little too long …..
The stalls at the Essen games fair break down roughly in to the following categories:
• Retailers selling new stuff
• Dealers selling second-hand stuff
• Big games companies, demonstrating new games that you can buy elsewhere
• Smaller games companies, demonstrating games that you can buy from them
• Games components suppliers (dice and dobbers)
• Magazine publishers
• Food vendors
• Comic book dealers (the show incorporates a Comics fair)
• People selling weird shit, like didgeridoos, cookie cutters or electric scalp massagersRetailers selling new stuff
You will find these stands are popular, and frequently populated by people with small notebooks in hand, writing down prices of games they might be interested in buying. I confess to being a note taker myself. I am happy to trudge 3,000 yards to visit 10 stalls for the sake of saving half a euro on the price of Bohnanza.
New games that were being pushed heavily included Elasund, Aqua Romana
, the big board reissue of Oltra Mare
, the card game reissues of Quo Vadis
and Tigris & Euphrates
, Railroad Tycoon the board game
(aka “Age of Steam Lite”), Timbuktu
and some bloody Su Doku
game. Oh, and of course, Niagara
, which I gather is “Game of the Year” in Germany.
Older games that were much in evidence included the numerous incarnations of Alhambra, Industria, Atlantic Star, Trans-Europa, Trans-America, Carcassonne
and its kindred whilst the Settlers
franchise is still going strong.
I passed by the Spielbar stand (Holgar and Holgar are regulars at RamsdenCon
) but I didn’t think they’d remember me (should have had number one son with me – they won’t forget him in a hurry) so I didn’t make contact. Their prices were competitive but not the cheapest.
One stand specialised in clearance lines with all games being sold at 10 euros. If memory serves, the games they had included a couple of coffee table Alex Randolph-designed abstract games, San Marco, Wildlife, Space Schweine
(“Pigs in Space”), Sold!
(not to me, it wasn’t), Tom Tube
and some game I bought, the name of which I can’t even remember. I bought San Marco
straight off the bat (saw it later even cheaper at €7.50, so I bought it again!) and then after doing a bit of research on the hotel’s web-enabled PC, came back the next day and bought Wildlife
Elsewhere I momentarily considered snapping up 3 copies of the original pizza-box Kremlin
at €15 each but decided that as I already own this game I could not afford the suitcase space. I did, however, buy one other game I already owned in the form of Um Reifenbreite
. Not only was it a bargain at €5 but it was in a squarer, deeper box than my version (which is actually Demarrage
) and so more suitable for book-case stacking.
Fantasy Flight had a number of its Reiner Knizia titles up for grabs at €10 each, and grabbed them I would have had I not been put off by the probability of a large amount of text in German on the cards. I like Scarab Lords
and was keen to try its half-brother Minotaur Lords
but the German language would have been too off-putting for my kids, I expect. So, instead I plumped for a selection of the Kosmos 2-player card games in the form of Babel
and Odin’s Ravens
. I’ve not played the latter but the former is a devilishly good game, right up there with Lost Cities
. If I’d known Hellas
had figures of Greek soldiers in it I probably would have bought that too, as it was going for about €7 to €9.Dealers selling second hand stuff
The second hand stalls were extremely popular and the practice of the dealers seemed to be to advertise the prices of a few titles and then leave the rest a secret. Someone later told me that the idea is to haggle, which is a fine idea in theory but I’d prefer to haggle down from a known price rather than pitch a price to the dealer blind, as it were. I didn’t see anything I particularly wanted to grab anyway. There were some old favourites that I used to rate, like Heimlich & Co, Jockey
, but I strongly suspect that they would seem quite ordinary if played now; at the time, we were comparing them with Monopoly, Westminster, Drang Nach Osten, Supremacy, Talisman
and the like, whereas now we would be comparing them with Die Macher, Puerto Rico
and Princes of the Renaissance
.Big games companies, demonstrating new games that you can buy elsewhere
Well, I had a go at:
• Inka – no thanks
• Timbuktu – would play again but wouldn’t buy
• Aqua Romana – one of the better spatial awareness, network building gamesInka
, I am afraid, reminded me somewhat of the infamous Magalon
, or “Mogadon” as it normally referred to by UK players. It’s a puzzle game, with a neat design, involving sliding or rotating tiles in order to build a route to treasure. Just not my cup of tea, old chum.Timbuktu
was a fun and enjoyable game, despite having a bit of a Cluedo-style deduction element. Each player has to steer several camel trains through the desert to Timbuktu. Each train has a different selection of goods (peppers, salt, coffee, gold, water – some trains have more than one item of the same good). The route taken by the camel train is chosen by the controlling player who may freely move the camel train forward, or to the adjacent route on the left or, at the cost of giving up one good, to any of the five available camel train routes.
Why would a camel train owner pay to choose a different route? Because each turn, thieves strike and steal from selected camels. Each player has a limited amount of information about where the thieves are going to strike, in the form of three cards which give details of the route that will be hit.(i.e. column), the camel within that route (i.e. the slot in the column) and the goods that will be stolen (if available) from the camel. Periodically, the cards are passed round one player to the left, so that during the course of the round players get to know the exact location of three of the five scheduled attacks. Furthermore, knowing what they know, they can often deduce from the actions of other players, what they don’t know, and act accordingly.
Once all the camels get to Timbuktu, the players trade in their goods, with the value of each commodity being determined by the number of items of that commodity that have been stolen during the course of the game by the thieves (e.g. if 9 bags of coffee have been stolen, coffee is worth 9).
It’s a simple game to pick up, and probably suitable as an introductory game to non-gamers.Aqua Romana
is superficially very straight forward, but is a nasty, vicious game with hidden depths. It bears some similarity to Metro
, in that players are building routes (aqueducts, in this case) across the map, looking to extend their routes for as long as possible to get points whilst blocking off expansion possibilities of opponents. The clever part of the game is in the tile choice mechanism. A number of markers are located on the edge of the board, each one depicting a type of tile (straight, cross, curve, double curve) that may be placed on the row or column occupied by said marker. For example, if a marker with a cross (+) shaped waterway on it is situated in row B, then any player with an unfinished waterway that currently ends in row B may place a cross tile to extend that waterway. Having placed the tile, the player then moves the marker clockwise to the next available space round the edge of the board (in the above example, probably row A, unless that were occupied).
So, as well as extending your waterway, you are also trying to manœuvre the tile-choice markers into convenient positions. Naturally there is an awful lot of “Hey, I was going to use that marker” going on. The truly nasty element, apart from deliberately terminating opponents’ waterways, comes when a marker moves round the corner from rows to columns or columns to rows; then the player who moved the marker gets to place an additional tile of the required sort (i.e. a “straight” if the marker is a “straight” tile marker) anywhere on the board, provided the tile does not connect to an existing player’s network. Potentially very nasty or, if the player has been really lucky, lucrative for the placer.
The game was quite easy to pick up and had a lot of thought to it. Nice bits, of course, but it’s clearly an abstract game, though one I would happily play again.(That’ll do for today!)Dinosaurs of rock
: Nazareth topped the bill, with UFO second, Iron Butterfly third and with Ten Years After occupying the floating “special guests” slot.