Today I have a slightly different show again. After I was at Essen Spiel 2019 last week, I wanted to share my experiences of that unique trade fair with you today. There were so many impressions. It really took me a few days to process all of them. But now I am ready to share my highlights with you.

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Music by Mathew Pablo


First of all, a few numbers about the fair. This year the fair took place for the 37th time. The organizers I talked to during the fair told me that they have the feeling that there were even more visitors this year than in the last few years. And their feelings were correct. The Spiel is the world’s largest games fair which this year for the first time had more than 200,000 visitors. A total of about 1500 new games were presented on an area of about 80,000 square meters. According to the trade fair operators, this year there were an extremely large number of expert games among them. Games with a higher complexity which are aimed at experienced players. The exhibitors were distributed in 6 halls which were also thematically subdivided. At least to some degree. For example there was a hall all around the topic tabletop with Warhammer as flagship company or a hall for all the children and family games. 

As you can imagine from the number of visitors, the fair was really crowded. We were there on Saturday, probably the fullest day and you could tell that immediately. We parked on parking lot number 10. Far away from the fair directly at the motorway. But even this parking lot was already quite full and in the shuttle bus to the fair we already realized that this would become a day with many many people around us. 

At the fair itself it also was really crowded. But it wasn’t as if there were extremely long queues everywhere. At most booths you had to wait until a table was free, but that usually only took 15 minutes until the current game someone was playing was over.

That is actually the good thing about the fair. It is not only about watching and buying games. You can also try them out on site. And my goal was to test a lot of games I had on my list for quite a while.

In the end I was able to play 7 different games at the fair that day. And I am quite satisfied with that. Especially because these were really nice games.

Playing so many games was only possible because the booths had really good staff who explained the rules and because we just played a few rounds of the games and didn’t finish them.  It helped a lot to get the games explained to be able to start quickly. This was a welcome alternative to always having to read the rules. 

While playing I was more interested in trying out games and collecting ideas. And I think that’s the attitude you should take. Because of the volume and the infinite number of impressions, it’s really hard to create the same atmosphere during a game that you know from your kitchen table at home. So the gaming experience is different and you shouldn’t go to the fair with the attitude of playing a comfortable sessions with beer and chips.

Games we played at Essen Spiel 2019

So then let’s talk a little bit about the games we were able to play at the fair. As I mentioned most of them weren’t all the latest games on the market. But rather some games that I had already longer on my list. We started in hall 6 and we immediately passed the booth of the Dark Souls games. And in the end, I have to say they had probably the most elegant way of testing their card game. They had a standing table where you could play one or two rounds of the game and a teacher who quickly explained the rules. Within 10 minutes we were able to get a nice overview of the game. From my perspective, each booth should have a standing table with a predefined board state to explain the game in less than 10 minutes. I know it is a different experience than building a deck on your own and experiencing the whole story and so. But for me, that was exactly what I was looking for. Understanding the game, see if some mechanics are interesting for my own designs and evaluate if the game is worth to dive deeper into. 

Dark Souls the Card Game

The Dark Souls Card Game is a cooperative game for 1-4 players. Each player starts with a hero and a starter deck for that hero. In our case, we played a knight and a sorcerer in a two-player game. Or at least two or three rounds of a game. The player decks contain different cards such as weapons, armor and a lot of stamina cards. MOre on the stamina cards in a second. This deck can evolve over time as you find more treasure and exchange the souls of your enemies for new stamina cards. The deck also represents the character’s health. So you can more or less draw as many cards as you want but you really have to consider not to die. In the beginning, we placed our hero card on a grid-based combat area and then played a short encounter against some enemies. In order to use an equipment card to perform an attack, you must discard one ore more stamina cards. The costs for the attack or defense are specified on the equipment card. The stamina cards come in 4 different kinds identified by large icons on the cards. The four types were dexterity, faith, intelligence, and strength. To perform an action, you simply had to discard an amount of Stamina equal to the action’s Stamina cost, and then resolve the action. Sometimes the equipment was lost as well. Sometimes it could be used more than once.
We only played a few rounds so I cannot say too much about the combat system. For me, it felt ok but it wasn’t something special that really stood out to me. One problem I had with it was that all the actions felt exactly the same way. A strike with a sword felt exactly the same as casting a spell. All attack and defense types were initiated by discarding cards. I would have preferred to see different mechanics here. What I liked was how the opponents behave. Even if we just saw only a little bit of that. When the enemies activate, they each perform the action shown on their card which is usually attacking a single character. Each enemy that attacks will attack the character in the target space shown on the enemy card. That means they are pre-programmed. However, if there is no character in that space, the enemy attacks the character with the highest taunt value in the target row. If there are no characters in the target row, the enemy attacks the character with the highest taunt value in the other row. That means they always attack someone and you can move accordingly to protect the weaker heroes. They were also different attack types such as heavy, skilled, precise or magical. And some enemies are weaker against some specific attack types but that wasn’t really of any meaning in our test run.
The game was fun and I would like to play it again.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

The game we played next was Vampire the Eternal Struggle. A collectible card game of Richard Garfield from 1994. No one of us had ever played the game before. I guess it was some kind of new expansion we played but since it was the first time for us playing the game at all it didn’t really matter. A nice guy started to explain the rules and I immediately realized how complex the game is. We had immense problems to understand the game and for every card, we wanted to play we had to ask our teacher if this is a move that is allowed or not. We missed triggers on the stack and possibilities to play reaction cards. Since every one of us has at least 20 years of Magic the gathering experience I was surprised how long it took us to understand the core mechanics of the game. I just looked up the weight-rating of the game on board game geek and was surprised that it is only rated with 3.35 of 5 which is a medium rating. The game was recommended to me several times now. For example for its twist on multiplayer rules. We played some kind of left attack where your left neighbor is your prey and your right neighbor is your preditor. The nice twist that we experienced during the game was the fact that you can more or less redirect an attack. That means the preditor is not attacking you as intended but your prey which is beneficial for you. In addition to that, the game also has some political votes in them but we didn’t see them during our match. We got our decks as a gift and I am sure we will play the game again but I am still a bit afraid of the rules at the moment.

Ascension: Skulls & Sails

The third game we played was a new expansion of the deckbuilding game Ascension. The expansion is called Skulls & Sails and adds a ship and raiding to the core game. We played a short round and lost with a relatively large distance against our teacher. The game was fun, but a little bit too easy for my personal taste. It only has a weight of 2 on BGG which isn’t bad, but I prefer a bit more complexity in my deck builders. Using the ship to move around the map to get some advantages if you are next to the card you want to buy from the market place felt a bit unnatural and didn’t really interact too well with the rest of the game. The game itself is a smooth deckbuilder.


The next game we played was Sorcerer. A game I really wanted to play. 
At the start of the game, we had to build our deck. That sounds complex but it was actually quite easy. Each player was building a unique sorcerer deck by combining one of the four available character decks with one of the four lineage decks and one of the four domain decks. Each pile came with 10 cards which adds up to a 30 card deck.

The character cards determine who you are, the lineage cards represent the style of magic you use and the domain deck determines the training you had and the kind of followers you have.

Each of the three decks also comes with a skill card that you place in front of you, giving you special abilities to use during the game. Together, your skill cards also show your full character name. For example, you might be Ariaspes the Demonologist of the Outcast Sanctuary.

Each round, players alternate spending actions. As far as I remember we had 6 or 7 actions each per round. What I really really liked is the way you can use those actions. You can use an action to play a spell, to draw a card, to gain energy (which is mana), or to play a minion. I really enjoyed having the freedom to choose what I want to do with my turn. Arkham Horror the Card Game has a similar model and I like these action based systems very much. 

The game comes with three different battlefields. When you play a minion, you must decide which battlefield to put it in. It will only be able to fight and use its abilities in that specific battlefield. If you later decide you need it elsewhere, you may spend an action to move it to a neighboring battlefield. After all player actions have been spent, minions fight by rolling battle dice equal to their attack. An attacking minion can damage or destroy enemy minions, and even conquer a battlefield. If you conquer two of the three battlefields, you win the game!

Tips for next year

  • Next year I need more than one day to have the chance to talk to more people and try more games
  • It makes sense to go on Thursday instead of Saturday
  • It doesn’t make sense to go there with more than 4 people
  • Most games were more expensive than on the internet