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Essen 2002

Greg Aleknevicus

November, 2002

Every October the city of Essen, Germany plays host to the gaming event in the world: Spiel. Game companies from all over the world release most of their new releases here and 150,000+ gamers will pass through the doors looking to try them out. For those that enjoy the types of games normally discussed here in The Games Journal, it really is the Mecca of gaming. It may be smoky and crowded (especially on the weekend) but there's nothing else like it and I'd recommend that everyone go at least once.

Main entrance to the Spiel convention center.

This was the second year that I was able to visit and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. How can you have a bad time when you're surrounded by thousands and thousands of games?

(Click on the thumbnails to get a larger picture.)

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A very distinct advantage to having a press pass is getting in before the general public. This is about the only time during the four day event that you wouldn't be jostling for elbow room. A much better impression of the state of the fair - lots of tables that are almost constantly occupied. The big companies (this is the Amigo booth) all had similar set ups in which you could request a game and have it taught to you by one of their legions of instructors (notice all those red shirts?) It was a little more difficult getting English instruction but, in general, this was not a problem.
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Easily my favourite part of the fair is the used games hall. It seemed as though just about every game you could imagine was available for very reasonable prices. I had to maintain supreme control in order to resist buying too many items. One game that has been rather eagerly anticipated is Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame. It certainly had great looking bits (and a huge board) but a longish playing time meant that it was hard to actually play the game. (So little time...)
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The latest in the Settlers franchise is Abenteuer Menschheit. Strangely, I heard very little about the game and it did not seem that many people had actually tried or purchased it. I'm wondering if perhaps the basic game has been stretched too far or if players are just looking for something completely new? Thursday afternoon there was an awards presentation for the 2002 Gamers' Choice Awards winners. Accepting the plaque for San Marco (Multi-player winner) is Frank Weiss (l) of Ravensburger. The winner in the Two-player category was Dvonn and the designer Kris Burm was on hand to receive his plaque.
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One very well received game was Ad Acta, a game about processing documents! The game is very nicely produced in a limited run of only 500 copies and was selling fast. I thought that the theme worked very well but that the scoring system was a little too chaotic. I had a nice chat with Sjaak Griffioen, the designer of Cityscape but did not get to actually play the game. In brief, players take turns placing blocks on a 4x4 grid creating ever larger skyscrapers. The goal is to have the number of building visible (from your perspective) match your pre-game prediction.
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Not all games scheduled for release actually make it there on time. One such game is Clans from Winning Moves. However, there were several rather polished mock-ups available for play and the game was receiving good word of mouth. Queen had one new big box game available this year called Krone & Schwert. Unfortunately, they had a very small booth with only a couple of tables so getting a playtest was nearly impossible. As such, there hasn't been much word about the game either positive or negative. 

- Greg Aleknevicus

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