Until October 8th, fans from all over the world can try out new board games and browse old treasures in Essen. The starting signal was given shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday. The gaming tables filled up quickly, but some halls initially remained unusually empty.
The players streamed into the halls in a surprisingly leisurely manner when the gates opened shortly after 10 a.m. Things are quite different from previous years, because it was not uncommon for eager fans to sprint to get one of the particularly rare seats at the tables where the particularly popular games were available. And then it actually took many minutes until the seats were filled, the players got started and did what they did GAME in Essen all that matters is trying out new things.
Full halls, good flow
The team from the organizing Friedhelm Merz Verlag had already corrected the estimated number of visitors upwards at an early stage. A central reason: Advance sales apparently went even better than initially expected. Instead of around 180.000 fans, almost 200.000 are now expected in Essen. And if you look around the halls, the assumption could certainly be correct. It was awesome. At the tables, in the aisles, at the checkouts. Especially when it came to paying, some fans had to put up with longer waiting times.
Two of the particularly popular games: the water world expansion for Arche Nova from Tierra del Fuego or Strohmann Games' Obsession. At the stand of the Cologne publishing house, which is no longer an insider tip, a queue formed that extended beyond the hall. Puzzled, a visitor in the aisle asked what they were queuing for: “Strohmann Games. Obsession!”, the answer came from the fan who was holding the sign that said “End of the Line” at the time. The development of the small publisher is impressive - in 2020 they started with three titles in the previous year of games, this time there are ten, including the current winner of the German Games Prize 2023: Planet Unknown. Chief straw man Marcel Straub is increasingly proving to have a good nose for potential hits. The run on Obsession is also quite understandable: the game has been available in English for around five years. No publisher had obviously dared to localize it, so Strohmann Games took action. The waiting fans now show that the decision was spot on.
Obsession is a board game about the British upper class in Victorian England. You control the fortunes of a wealthy family and try to expand your influence. To do this, you design the property, invite guests, and collect points. The expert game is interconnected down to the last detail and also impresses with its nostalgic, modern charm. And successful series like Netflix's Bridgerton may also have contributed to the fact that players are so into Obsession.
Also in demand: the publishers’ bargain shops. There, too, fans lined up for minutes for the prospect of a good deal.
The new hall concept is initially unusual for long-time fans and exhibitors, and the idea was not initially well received by everyone. However, if you watch the hustle and bustle of the crowd at Messe Essen, you might get the impression that the change is definitely justified. The organizers at Friedhelm Merz Verlag drew a first cautious interim conclusion shortly after the start of the trade fair: “Visitors are in flux,” says SPIEL PR man Robin de Cleur. He himself dared to experiment and made it from the starting point to Hall 3 in around seven minutes. One reason for the orderly flow of visitors through the exhibition halls is the straight aisles. In addition to the division of topics, this is a new detail that ensures a little more relaxation overall. However, the concept is powerless against small talk nubs in the middle of the aisle, long queues at sales stands or the formation of groups at the edges of the playing areas. There are traffic jams here and there, and in the early afternoon it was almost impossible to get through, especially in Hall 3. After all, the good economic figures for the toy industry and the ongoing boom in games have to be reflected somewhere - on trade fair days, that's right in the middle of the jam-packed halls. This can be annoying, sometimes annoying, but it is also a good sign for the future of board and card games.
De Cleur is pleased that we received a lot of positive feedback. “Above all, it’s a nice mix.” Role-playing games, trading card games and miniatures games can be found in Hall 1, while fans can find expert and expert games in Hall 3. In Halls 2, 4, 5 and 6, family games range from simple children's games to easy expert games. A positive side effect is particularly clear for small publishers: they no longer have a niche existence away from the crowds of visitors, but are sometimes right in the middle of the action. Whether the new concept is well received by the retailer or not depends primarily on the perspective. Some exhibitors had to be patient at the beginning because the majority of fans streamed into the halls via the main east entrance of Messe Essen. So it was initially full in Halls 6 and 7; many visitors looked around at the start and sat down in free places. The back areas of the fairgrounds filled up slowly, but they filled up steadily. The fans also arrived there around midday. It takes a bit of getting used to for experienced visitors. The old layout had been known for many years and the publishing locations could be shown blindly on the hall plan - now you have to look at the map or in the app. In any case, Friedhelm Merz Verlag cannot be accused of a lack of commitment to providing information: the plans can be used interactively, and the smartphone app in particular helps to navigate through the halls. Ultimately, the circle closes here, because the symmetrical arrangement of the stands makes orientation easier.
In any case, it can be seen from the new organizational structures that the organizers will record possible problems, analyze them and correct them where necessary.
SPIEL'23 runs until Sunday: 1.745 new products can be tried out by players at the largest games fair to date in Essen. Never before has the event been more impressive in terms of space. And the changes to the space concept are also reflected here. Because: More halls are not needed to get even more square meters of exhibition space - there are around 62.500, 25 percent more than in the previous year. It remains to be seen whether it could be enough to set a visitor record. The forecasts from Friedhelm Merz Verlag are at least close. With the successful start to the trade fair week, the foundation has been laid for a significant increase and now that the corona pandemic has been overcome, people are hungry for major events.
Gaming fair in Essen: photos from the halls
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