Get a daily behind-the-scenes look at Essen Spiel 2023 with Czech Games Edition.
An oddly delightful buzz of chaos hangs in the air. Forklifts zip at high speeds through the loading docks—navigating the looming city of pallets, scaffolding, product, and busy bodies that sprung to life across the flat nothingness of cold concrete floors. Board game publishers from around the globe are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their sprawling booths. You can even still find a clean, quiet, mostly empty bathroom.
All of this is going to change tomorrow.
It’s Wednesday, the final day of setup here in the cavernous halls of the Messe Essen convention center before the show officially kicks off. Tomorrow brings a completely different level of chaos, when the doors fling open and the convention center floods with many, many (MANY) thousands of eager Spiel attendees. Even though the team is already tired from several days of setup and preparations, there’s a palpable excitement as everyone gets ready for a busy, hectic few days ahead.
As CGE’s North American Marketing human, my main focus is on the US and Canadian side of marketing things. This is my first Essen Spiel, and my first time in Germany. The halls are massive. The booths are massive. The bratwursts are massive. Everything here is massive. Sized to a scale that you don’t really find at board game shows in the US…at least not yet. Gen Con is the closest I’ve experienced, but even that show is dwarfed by the sheer scope of Essen.
It’s going to be a crazy few days and a very different experience from most of the larger cons I attend. Normally, at US cons I’m cloistered away for 12 hour days of busy meetings with the board gaming media. Essen is a different animal, and I have a unique opportunity to try something a little different this time. I’m mainly here to learn, experience the show, gather intel, and help out and vibe with my colleagues on the Czech side of the CGE team. So I figured why not document some of the behind the scenes moments of what the biggest international board convention is like as an Essen first timer?
Also: a good opportunity to get my steps in.
Novelties Show: Jetlagged Edition
Staying up for more than 28 hours straight is generally ill advised, but it’s somewhat unavoidable when traveling internationally to work at a board game convention. Especially when your first full day in Germany involves greeting the first wave of media at the Novelties show press conference.
I’m told the media turnout today was big today, even by normal Essen standards. For us, it was a nice but hectic, smaller-scale warmup for the bigger level of craziness that’s coming up the rest of this week.
For anyone who isn’t familiar (which I’ll admit included myself until just recently): the Novelties show lets publishers showcase their new goodies to the press and retailers in a rather fun and clever way. Games are laid out and lined up down long rows of tables, making it very easy for people to film, take photos, and generally browse many games in a relatively short period of time. It’s like running a gauntlet of fun, more or less. The first hours were absolutely mobbed — and there were multiple rooms full of games to explore. We saw everything from print media to youtubers and even a few full TV crews pass by. It was wild.
Essentially, today’s media kickoff gave people an opportunity to get a first look at many of the hot new games releasing at Spiel alongside other recent and notable games—before the show opens and everything gets a lot busier.
CGE’s setup consisted of a few tables, large banners, and some thematic stands situated in the largest room next to our friends and German publishing partners, Heidelbaer Games. On one side, we had co-designers Ondřej Bystroň and Petr Čáslava showcasing Kutná Hora: The City of Silver, our big heavy euro Spiel release that’s available for the first time at the show tomorrow. On the other side, we had husband and wife co-designers Mín & Elwen showing the second newer Lost Ruins of Arnak expansion, The Missing Expedition. My Czech marketing colleague Jana and I stood in between, thus completing the delicious CGE Novelties show sandwich. [Apologies, I forgot to eat breakfast today.]
Time passed so quickly, as the media came through—first as a giant mob, then a slower trickle—for the four hours of the event. When things slowed down enough, I took a quick spin through the gauntlet to snap some photos and see what this year’s buzz is all about. Honestly, one of my favorite things about working in the board game industry (both as a game designer myself and in my marketing role at CGE) is getting to see so many new unique and varied game designs at every convention. It’s normally hard to find time to see them all, so it was nice that the Novelties show put so many in one place.
And as a former journalist, I also really enjoy working with board game media. There are so many nice and interesting people working in this industry on the media and the publisher side alike. It’s a blessing to have a job that lets me interact with so many of them on a regular basis. Also, it’s always nice to see familiar faces when you’re jet lagged and so far away from home in a foreign country.
Tomorrow: The Floodgates Open
As I type this last paragraph from within the deep confines of our makeshift CGE fort [no really, it’s super cool], we’re getting very close to wrapping up preparations for tomorrow’s opening day. Our demo staff is all warmed up, the CGE shop is well-stocked and looks great, and we’re ready for anything [I think]. Also nothing is on fire, so that’s probably good too.
Let the games begin, truly! If you’re at Spiel this week, don’t forget to stop by CGE’s booth-fortress at its new location in Hall 3 – Booth #3Y124. If you’re tuning in from home, be sure to check back here tomorrow for more behind-the-scenes shenanigans from Speil 2023!