9 tips to help you master Spiel Essen

This is a translation of a German article by Brettspiele Runde. The original can be found here: https://www.brettspielerunde.de/9-tipps-um-die-spiel-zu-meistern/

Thank you for letting me translate it into English and use it on the blog.

You’ve been here before. You’re with your friends, playing a round of Scrabble, when you suddenly wonder what it would be like to visit this mythical place, which other boardgamers always talk about. So you decide to go to Essen to visit the biggest boardgame convention in the world – just because. Yet, you wonder what you really need to become a Spiel expert and what fluff you can leave at home and ignore at the convention. We offer you 9 tips, which are guaranteed to make you a pro-boardgamer.

1. Tickets

Unfortunately, Spiel is still not free. So you need to get a ticket, which you can easily buy beforehand and can even get posted to you. However, if you forgot or the pre-order fees seem to high, then you can also buy your ticket on site. Mind you, that’s too simple. As a pro-boardgamer you don’t want to be a mere visitor – you want to attend as a member of the press. A press pass gives you free entry, so you quickly open a publishing house, invest all of your free time to publish a handful of articles and then apply for an official press pass with the UKPCA, who will direct you to a gatekeeper organisation, which will make you jump through a number of hoops to prove that your main income comes from press-related work – but eventually, you will be able to get your free ticket.

2. Accommodation

Not many people realize this, but at 7pm every night, Spiel closes their doors and you have to somehow find a way of spending the night. Of course, there are some tips for this. People who aren’t pro-boardgamers will have booked their accommodation months, if not years, in advance. A hotel room is either really expensive or miles away from the exhibition. However, you can save time and money by pitching your tent on the lawns outside of the convention halls. So pack your festival tent and you’ll be fine. A pro-boardgamer won’t mind the single-digit overnight temperatures.

If you do want a roof over your head, because maybe the tent still reeks of mud and cow dung from the last festival you attended, then convince one of the convention visitors that you have a rare boardgame that they can try for themselves, and while they play through the night, you sleep in their bed, on the couch or even in the corridor.

3. Budget

Of course you need a budget for Spiel. Nobody attends without a budget. However, you do need to distinguish between two types of budget. There is the passive budget and the active budget. The passive budget is really easy to describe. It’s however much cash you have available, minus the amount that your partner confiscates when they find out where you’re planning on going. You can try and bargain, but it’s still something to consider.

The active budget is different. To achieve an active budget, you lie to your partner or you’re already single. Another option is to take your partner to Essen with you, so you can both decide together what to spend all your money on.

4. Dress Code

Many people will tell you to wear thick layers of clothing, because it’s usually quite cold at the end of October in Germany. The halls themselves are heated though, so it’s quite warm inside. However, that’s not the best advice – not for a pro-boardgamer. Forget thick clothing. You don’t want to be carrying lots of coats, jumpers or other stuff that takes up valuable space. Taking advantage of the cloakroom in the halls is also just a waste of time. So be strong and bear the cold weather so you have more time to play games and more room to buy games and take them back home.

The only thing you should invest in are your shoes. You want them to be really comfortable, because until the use of Segways is allowed, you will still have to walk through the many and large exhibition halls. Of course, we have another pro-boardgamer tip for you here. If you book a stand at the convention, you have a place to stop and rest and even store the games you bought. Also, you save on the entry ticket, because you’re now an exhibitor.

5. Travel

It’s surprising how many attendees don’t come from Essen itself. Instead, they travel by various means to get there – and it really doesn’t matter how you get there. You’re either stuck in traffic or you’ll be squeezed into public transport, if you can manage to get on in the first place. Only on Sunday things quieten down a little. Oh, and you don’t only get stuck on your journey to the halls. Inside, traffic is just as bad and you’ll be squashed by the masses of visitors.

If you think, you can escape the traffic jams on your journey to the exhibition by going by rail, you’ll be wrong. The Deutsche Bahn has employed a special envoy whose sole purpose is to make your journey as difficult as possible. One year, they had the bright idea to close Essen’s main train station.

The option of making your way on foot or per bike seems sensible, but isn’t very practical. Those modes of transport will make it impossible for you to take the many boardgames you buy back home.

6. Parking

Of course, this only applies if you go by car. There are a number of official convention car parks all around the exhibition halls, but there are two things to consider. First of all, you will have to queue to even get into one of those official car parks, adding to your traffic jam experience. Secondly, you have to remember that you won’t be the only ones in the car park, so when you leave, you’ll experience the same queues and traffic jams as you did when you arrived.

So what do you do? Well, it’s quite simple. The city and the police offer a special parking service. Just leave your car anywhere near the halls and the city and police will do the rest. Sure, there will be a special fee to pay – it’s not a free service. Also consider that it might take some extra time to get your car back when you want to leave.

7. Food and Drinks

Sure, there are many places where you can eat at Spiel. Anything from cold ice creams to hot chillies, there is something for everyone. Yet, eating and drinking takes time and you usually have to queue for a long time to get your food. So pro-boardgamers will bring their own food and drinks and will eat and drink as they play or on their journey through the halls. Unfortunately, that can lead to problems. Sandwiches are easy and once eaten, will make room for more games, but drink bottles are an issue. You will reduce the weight you carry by emptying them, but they will continue to take up room in your bag.

That’s where camel bags are useful. They don’t just offer a quick, cool drink in easy reach, they also are great padding against knocks from other visitors. To optimize mealtimes further, don’t bother with sandwiches that need to be wrapped and instead take fruit, which comes in its own, natural packaging.

8. Boardgames

Let’s look at some hard facts: technically every visitor to Spiel is highly likely to buy a boardgame at the show. Any boardgames you win in one of the many competitions and raffles at the show, don’t offer you much choice of what you get, but when it comes to buying your own, you can make targeted choices. As a pro-boardgamer you will be using a plethora of tools. You can go with written notes, but digital options are better. You can choose between Board Game Geek lists or the Tabletop Toghether Tool. Yet, digital tools create their own problems. You will need electricity and access to internet. Without those, your lists won’t be worth a penny.

Of course, the Merz Verlag who organizes Spiel, can help you. Every visitor gets a free, analogue Spielguide (which is also available in digital form). If that isn’t quite pro enough for you, then get a personal shopper. Just contact one of the many boardgame bloggers, YouTubers or podcasters and ask them to put a list together for you – and maybe they can find those games for you as well.

9. Code of Conduct

Be nice! That’s going to get you further than pushing, queue jumping and whatever other selfish behaviour you can think of. That also means not staying at one boardgame table all day and hogging that game. The pro-boardgamer will ask to be demoed a game and play it for a few rounds, before making the decision to buy it.

However, don’t confuse being nice with giving into everything and everyone. Sometimes you have to be confident and assertive to make progress. Otherwise, you may not be able to move at all due to the number of visitors. Maybe spend a little time practicing parkour techniques to help you navigate the halls.

And speaking of navigating: the pro-boardgamer will definitely use Google Glass and other AR devices to immediately know the price of a boardgame and its availability and to help you find the right stand.