This report is the first installment of a new semi-regular column by editor and writer Ward Batty, who has over 30 years experience in retail management and publishing.  This week, Batty gives us his picks from the recently completed game fair in Essen, Germany.    


Held every October in Essen, Germany the 'Internationale Spieltage Essen - Spiel' (Essen International Gamedays) has been the premiere event for all gamers, but boardgame fans in particular, for over 25 years.  Essen is a medium-sized city of about a half million, located in the western-most part of Germany, near the Netherlands and Belgium.  The convention center, known as the Messe Essen, should be called the Massive Essen because the place is huge.  You've seen the biggest room at Origins or GenCon; the Internationale Spieltage fills nine of those rooms.  The amazing thing is that the fair doesn't even use the two largest rooms at the Messe.  It's a huge facility.


The show consists of many booths, mostly publisher booths, big and small.  Big companies like Ravensburger and Amigo will have a 'booth' that's more like a small complex, with dozens of tables for folks to try new games as well as displays and folks to teach games.  Imagine a King Kong version of the Looney Labs booth.  There are several large retailers featuring many of the new games that have been timed to debut for the show.  Finally there are a dozen or so dealers each with hundreds of used and rare boardgames priced from 5 to 800 euros.


The boardgame business has been in a slump in Germany for the last few years, while the American market for boardgames remains robust, with not only 40-50 English language releases from Rio Grande Games, Mayfair and others but also increased output from companies like Fantasy Flight.


I heard from more than one veteran boardgame player that the American boardgame is stepping up in prominence and reasserting an 'American-style' of boardgames (mostly reflected in the choice and strength of theme and a certain style of game mechanics).


Last Essen and at this year's Nurenberg, the German companies seemed to be responding to their woes by gravitating to lighter game designs aimed more at families with children.  If this had worked I guess it would have been good for the German market, but it resulted in a disappointing batch of games that were too light or felt too familiar (stripped-down concepts used in older games) to be very exciting.  Fortunately, things seemed to have turned for the better this year and there were a number of games that have a lot to offer boardgame players.


In Germany, most boardgames are released either for the Nurenberg Toy Fair in March, or in October for Essen.  This year there were over 450 new games released for Essen, and maybe as many as 100 of these will find their way into an English edition.  My main focus at the show was on the limited-run games that sell out at the show.  These are often picked up by an American publisher, such as Oltre Mare from RGG and Reef Encounter from Z-Man Games.  Many of those publishers, such as JKLM and Mind the Move, now have deals with Rio Grande Games.


So who were the new publishers that wowed the show this year?



Designed by Vladimir Chvatil.

Published by CzechBoardGames.

CBG (CzechBoardGames) was one of the more intriguing stories of the show.  This is a new company with relatively unknown designers with three new games: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, Graenaland (both by Vladimir Chvatil), and Legie by Zbynek Vrana.  Somebody should study what they did leading up to the show because the buzz for their games was tremendous and I heard that all three games sold out by Sunday.  A number of US publishers are negotiating rights, so I image these will be available in North America in 2007.


Space Dealer

Designed by Tobias Stapelfeldt.

Published by Eggert-Spiele

I was wrapping everything up and leaving the show for the last time Friday evening, but something wouldn't let me leave.  I made the trek to Hall 12 one last time because mystical powers simply would not let me go home without buying a copy of Space Dealer.  This is a real-time game of making trades and deliveries in the 30 minutes allotted.  Even folks who dislike timed games were raving about how fun it was. A second set can be added to get the number of players to 8.  I expect that someone will bring this clever game to market here.



Designed by Ludovic Vialla and Arnaud Urbon.

Published by Matagot.

I, along with almost 499 others, bought Khronos, a relatively expensive (40 euros, $50 or so) and very large and heavy game (a serious luggage consideration) without playing it, or talking to anyone who played it, because it became obvious that it would sell out before anyone I knew would have the chance to play it.  Why did this happen?  Khronos looks very cool, with nice boards and bits.  The idea of the game is novel and sounds like it is filled with possibilities.


The game is played on three identical boards that represent the same area in three different times (middle ages, Renaissance period and modern times).  You have the ability to travel back in time and make improvements that will resonate through time, sometimes with surprising results.  I still haven't tried to but early reports from those who have are positive.  I would expect this to be made available in North America next year.



Many Essen releases are already on their way over and will, with luck, be available to shops by early to mid December in time for holiday sales.  I didn't focus on these, as they were going to be available for purchase and play at home, but I still managed to hear about several of them.


Rio Grande Games

Die Baumeister von Arkadia

This is a very nice placement and stock market-style game by Ravensburger that RGG will release in January.



Lighter than Ys and Caylus, this is a nice variable action game with a very clever dice mechanism for determining what actions are available each round.



New game from Mind the Move. Looks like a good, meaty connection and trading game.  Should be available by mid-December from Rio Grande Games.


Finally, I had the chance to play the next Alea game, Notre Dame. Rum and Pirates was aimed more at a 'family' audience but I'm pleased to report that Alea is back on track with Notre Dame.  This is a variable-action game with a novel way of deciding who does what.  The game was shown as a prototype at Seen, and will be published for the 2007 Nurenberg Toy Fair next spring and a RGG version should be available sometime after that.


Mayfair Games

Die Saulen der Erde (The Pillars of the Earth) is based on a novel by Ken Follet and published by Kosmos.  It will have an English version from Mayfair.  This was very well received by those who tried it and should be a strong release.


Z-Man Games

Gheos is a good tile-placement game using triangle-shaped tiles.  A bit similar to Carcassonne in that you create a landscape, but tiles can be replaced and there is a combat element.



Those are most of the highlights, although there are another half-dozen games from RGG that couldn't be covered and with over 400 new games released there's no way to cover them all.  This was a very strong Essen and North American game players will be able to enjoy great new games for months to come.