So How Important is Essen, Anyway?

Just this morning, I listened to the latest episode of Garrett’s Games & Geekiness, and Doug sort of went on a little rant about how Tom and Eric at The Dice Tower are basically ignoring the huge spectacle that is the Essen game fair coming up in a week or two.  I found myself having an interesting reaction to the rant, in that mostly, I disagree with Doug and agree with Tom (which is becoming more and more rare these days).

Now, obviously, on a boardgame industry level, Essen is a freaking huge deal.  Something like 500 new games are going to be released at the fair, with 150,000 or so people in attendance and all that crazy kind of stuff.  Lots of deals are made behind the scenes and tons of other industry stuff happens there, so clearly, it’s an important and vital affair for the advancement of the hobby.

But on the other hand, for a regular old everyman gamer like me, sitting here in North Carolina with little hopes of ever getting to Essen until maybe after I retire in 30 years or whatever, how relevant is the whole thing these days?

Now, when I first got into the hobby, I followed the Essen lists really closely.  I even tried to keep up with the day-by-day happenings of the fair on BGG and other blogs.  But as time has gone on, I seem to care less and less about it, and at this point, It’s barely on my radar at all anymore.  I haven’t checked out the canonical Essen list even once this year, and all I’ve really heard about it is what podcasters say on the shows that I already subscribe to. 

So, if it’s such a huge honkin’ deal, and I’m trying to be a resonsible blogger and podcaster, why the heck aren’t I up all night putting together my anticipation lists and trying to secure interviews with all the hot game designers (the ones with hot games, that is, not the ones who look nice in jeans)?  Here’s the deal:

1) I’m not going to Essen.  Once before I die, I hope to make the big European trip to the UK and Germany and who knows where else, and I will certainly plan to make it in October with a visit to Essen.  But as for now, I’m just pretty happy to make it to MACE and maybe pull off a trip to GenCon in the next 5 years or so.  And it certainly seems to me that the biggest predictor about which podcasters and bloggers are excited about Essen is based on whether or not they’re actually going themselves.  So to Doug, Essen is a huge deal because it’s a huge frickin’ deal for him personally. 

2) There’s like 500 frickin’ games coming out at Essen.  I mean, really, who can keep up with all that?  I get tired just scrolling through the list of games, let alone trying to actualy learn something about them and put effort into making magical predictions about which ones will be good.  I mean, God bless all those people out there who do all that work and play most of the games and give us all the information about them, but to me, it seems like a very poor investment of my time.

3) The best games will eventually get here anyway.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of those 500 freaking games will be totally forgotten or irrelevant almost as soon as they’re released.  With just a few exceptions, the ones that rise to the top will get good buzz and be recognized and eventually be published in English.  So at this point, I’d rather wait for a game to prove itself and grab my attention rather than wasting all the time searching through haystacks for that one little needle that I may want to own.  And since I’m not going to Essen nor do I have the money or inclination to make international orders of foreign-language versions of games, I wouldn’t really have access to the games until they hit North American shores anyway, so why should I get myself all excited about games I won’t see for another 3-6 months?

There are probably some other things, but that’s the main gist of it.  And especially for people like Tom who lean more heavily towards the Ameritrash end of the gaming spectrum, a fair about 500 mostly eurogame-centric designs probably isn’t all that interesting. 

For me personally, there are definitely some games that I’m very interested in coming out at Essen, but again, they’ve already crossed my attention for some other reason (rather than my diligent searching them out), and I’m content to basically wait for other games to do the same.  So at least until I start to see which 5 or 10 games come out the other end with the most buzz, I’ll just be going about my normal routine.

So, what about y’all?  How important is Essen to you?  Anyone out there in the midst of tracking all the games and waiting expectantly for any and all information you can get?  I’d love to hear your perspective!


  1. DLE

    Tom is right and Doug wrong. To the average gamer, Essen itself has almost no influence at all. The games that debut there will get here eventually, many of them may even take a year to do so. Many of the games released at the show will be in such limited quantities as to be available only for the rabid fans who make the trek. Otherwise, who cares? We’ll see the games when they eventually drift over here, people will review them, and some of us may buy one or two. And that’s the way it is.

  2. Chris, you said everything I was thinking. Done and done.

  3. Interesting take on this, Chris. I’m glad to hear that you’re agreeing with my more than with Tom :-). I will accept the fact that since I’m going it’s much more important to me AND that the best games will eventually make their way to our shores (and that this has become much more frequent a situation in recent years). However, being a gamer for many means paying attention to the new stuff coming out, which is certainly the case for Tom and Eric. If they can only find one game that they are interested in exploring, I’m worried. Should they care about even a significant fraction of the 500? No. Should they have found at least a few on which they could report, especially as a news source for the hobby? I think they should. Regardless, Tom and I will be having a discussion on next week’s podcast about this exact issue. Should be fun!

  4. I’m late to this party, having just posted my usual Essen Anticipation podcast a few minutes ago…the day before Spiel starts! When I look back at past Essens, I find quite a lot of games that interest me, so by that measure this year’s Essen should also be significant. However, since I’m happily so behind the curve on new games, I won’t get to them for months (at least). Does that mean Essen becomes irrelevant? I don’t think so. I still enjoy it as a spectator sport, I simply am falling farther behind the power curve on these things. I’m ok with that.

    What I’m less comfortable about is thinking any particular blog or podcast has an obligation to cover Essen, Gencon, or anything else. (Kickstarter, gack!) I guess it’s different if you’re monetizing your blog/podcast and trying to deliver a service (e.g. news) to your “customers,” but that entire sentence gives me the willies. This is a HOBBY. We do this for FUN. So many bloggers do their thing as a labor of love, and/or because they like to have a voice. I think podcasts should generally do the exact same thing.

  5. Chris Norwood

    Hey Mark! 

    Yeah, I think that my opinion is basically the same as yours, even if we express it a little differently.  The size and scope of Essen and all its 500+ game releases is just impossible for me (especially as someone who already feels pretty behind the curve of new games) to really get into on an “anticipation” level.  But as you said on your podcast, I too am looking forward to the reports and retrospectives that people publish afterwards, so I can sort through the comments and ratings to see what games rise to the top and interest me most.  So it’s not that Essen is “irrelevant” per say, but more that the whole hype and research and investment of time prior to the show that’s irrelevant to me.

    And as for whether Tom and Eric “should” cover Essen, that’s probably a better question.  I’m pretty cool with The Dice Tower podcast itself not investing a lot of time in what “could be” good at Essen, since (as Tom said on the second GG&G podcast) that show is mostly about games they’ve played from a review sort of perspective.  But as the editor of the Game Salute News, it really seems like it’s sort of Tom’s job to pay more attention to upcoming releases and, say, the ginormous game fair that is the biggest event of the year in boardgaming. 

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