Spiel '99 Photographsby David Coutts
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The Board Not Bored Games Essen Experience.
The Journey There
The journey from Melbourne to Essen was a long one. Being tall, I find aeroplanes very uncomfortable and consequently didn't really sleep during 20 hours plus of actual flying via Singapore to Frankfurt. Nor did I manage to sleep during the hours of waiting at Melbourne, Singapore and Frankfurt airports. At Frankfurt I collected my hire car and set off for my first ever drive on the Autobahn. I'll never forget being passed by a red Ferrari doing approximately 3 times my speed, and I wasn't going slow! Things get busy around Essen, but I managed to pick out my exit from the Autobahn and headed into Essen.
I had picked out accommodation via the Internet. I had chosen a location close to Messe-Essen, where Spiel '99 is held. So, when I passed the huge Messe-Essen site I took the next turning and parked. I was delighted, therefore, to find my accommodation (without the aid of a map or directions) simply by going walkabout. The area around Ruttenschneider Strasse is very pleasant, and my guest house was only 5 minutes walk from Messe-Essen. Furthermore, I identified a good looking pub at the halfway point which served meals and Guinness. Perfect!
Unfortunately, dropping off the hire-car proved to be a nightmare as the Herz office was out of town. Not only did I not have a town map, but nobody knew where they were (despite Herz's assurances that everyone knew where they were). I'd arrived in Essen Saturday afternoon (16th October), and Herz shut early on Saturdays. Consequently, after they ordered me a Taxi and shut up shop, they left me to await a Taxi which never showed! My mobile phone battery had died, so I had no choice but to walk back to Essen! After a few kilometres I managed to hail a Taxi to return, exhausted, at the guest house where I was staying. Thanks a lot Herz!
Preparations - Monday 18th October to Wednesday 20th October.
Having read about the Essen games fairs for so long through Sumo Magazine, then Games Games Games and Counter Magazine, it was incredible to have finally made it to Spiel '99. Very exciting.
I'd shipped 300 copies of 6 Billion to Germany at the beginning of August, and I had confirmed their arrival in Essen prior to leaving Melbourne. Now I had to make contact with Friedhelm Merz Verlag, the fair organisers, and Alfred Paas Gmbh who were handling my shipping and storage. I discovered that Alfred Paas have offices at Messe-Essen, which was very useful. Also, Messe-Essen had their own staff at the Service Desk next to Hall 3. My thanks to all the ladies at the Service Desk for their help during the show, and Thomas Verhulsdonk of Alfred Paas. With their help I managed to get my stand prepared and my games delivered to the stand. Sadly, 3 copies of 6 Billion had been stolen in transit from Melbourne and 1 copy was physically ruined. Then, upon returning to my stand 2 additional copies had been stolen! Looking on the bright side, the insurance would pay for these copies, so I had "sold" 6 copies before the show even started! The Messe-Essen security and local police were very sympathetic about the theft, but there was little anyone could do. My advice to anyone contemplating taking their game to Essen, set up late and don't go alone...
I found Tobias Merz and Dominique Metzler of Friedhelm Merz Verlag to be very friendly and helpful - they ensured that I was well prepared for the New Games hall on the Wednesday morning (only open to the press and games companies). It was here where I chatted with Reiner Knizia (clutching his first production copy of Stephenson's Rocket). The last time we had met was about 5 years previously, and it was good to meet him again. Frank Sven Nestel, of Doris & Frank Games, came over and said hello too and we talked for quite a while. He's very friendly. I complimented him on Mu & Mehr, one of my favourites. Ken Tidwell (of The Games Cabinet) popped by to say hello. I also met Mik Svellov of Brett & Board here and we talked for some time afterwards. It was good to meet you Mik. And some of the German Press finally tired of talking to all the usual people and one or two then spotted 6 Billion and stopped to ask a few questions.
For those who unaware of the costs involved, a Publisher's Rowstand (5 x 2 Meters) cost me 670DM for the basic stand plus about 500DM for hired furnishings and a small fee for wallpapering the stand. Then the insurance at the show was 186DM. As an exhibitor, for this size stand, I received 3 exhibitor's tickets which allows access to the site from the Sunday before the show to the Monday after and an official catalogue for Spiel '99. They got my URL and email address wrong for Board Not Bored Games (brbg when it should have been bnbg).
Also, exhibitors get an exhibitors catalogue a couple of months before the show to allow them to prepare for the show. My original catalogue was sent surface mail to Australia and was finally waiting for me when I got back! Luckily I had called Friedhelm Merz and got a copy sent airmail prior to leaving Australia.
Spiel '99 - Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th October.
Let the show commence! Thursday started well with Funagain Games reserving 18 copies of the game up front. All the guys from Counter (Alan How, Stuart Dagger, Mike Clifford et al) then showed up and quickly set up their stuff at my stand. It was great to finally meet them all, and a real pleasure to have their company for the first two and half days of the fair. Graham Lipscomb (designer of Creeper, Colliding Circles & Hexwrangle) and David Royffe (designer of Pylos, Pyraos and Gigamic) then tacked themselves on the end of the stand as previously agreed. These guys had done this before - they even brought their own furniture! With the chaps from Counter spending the evenings at their hotel out of town I was glad to have Graham and David's company for dinner. I especially enjoyed our crazy circuits of Essen at night (there's a game in that somewhere...), the jazz, and dinner with Cliff and Anne-Marie Saunders.
My stand, 903, is the same one used by Richard Breese (designer of Chamelequin, Keywood & Keydom) in previous years and it became obvious that this is the traditional meeting place for games fans from the UK and the USA. Richard Breese stopped by a couple of times to see how things were going. Other very friendly faces were Martin Wallace (designer of Lords Of Creation, Stockers, Mordred and others), Maureen Hiron (designer of million-seller Continuo and many others), and Andy Cox (designer of Buntu Circus) all of whom had plenty of work of their own at Spiel '99 but took time out to stop and talk It was good to see some DIGers there, too.
Then Paul Evans and Carol Johnson came by with an armful of Issue 137 of Games Games Games. Carol then handed them to me and what a huge surprise it was to see my game, 6 Billion, on the cover! Mike Siggins (who had penned the review in GGG-137) was about too, but alas we didn't get to talk much. Sorry I didn't make it for a game at David Farquhar's house back in England, Mike. Paul Evans informed us all of the demise of Chart International, which was sad news.
Thursday's trade was fairly brisk, with people constantly at the 6 Billion demo table. Stefanie Kethers and Jörg Henrichs of Luding were on hand at various points throughout the four days to assist with demonstrations of the game, which they did admirably. A thank you to you both!
Friday was pretty much the same, with my friend Bernd "Bernie" Meyer from Billabong Boardgamers (our games club in Melbourne) also on hand to help out. Thank you Bernie! Bernie & Stefanie worked on the German translation of 6 Billion together, over the Internet.
By the end of Friday I was looking to sell out, with everyone saying how busy the weekends get.
It was strange just how quiet Saturday was, then. The Counter crowd left late morning, and the local Essen folk were at the fair in force. But my sales were very slow - quite depressing really, given the past two days and the build-up that everyone was giving to Saturday! Various German press and others I talked to put it down to a key difference between this year and previous years. Normally there is a school holiday for the Thursday and Friday, so the non-gaming family crowd is spread more over the four days. This year there was no school holiday, so the families came only on Saturday and some on Sunday. I had a similar experience at Aussiecon Three, the 57th World Science-Fiction Convention in Melbourne in early September this year. For whatever reason, for me, the Saturday was dead!
Anyway, I took the opportunity to take a look around. I made sure I said hi to the only other person crazy enough to come all the way from Australia to exhibit at the fair - Harry Rowland of the Australian Design Group (World In Flames, Empires In Arms etc). I took a good look at his Seven Ages, which looks like History Of The World with history! Interestingly, it's not strictly a wargame and Harry reports that the game appeals to female players as well as the usual male gaming fraternity. I can't wait for it to come out, it look fantastic. But it seems to be taking seven ages to become available!
I made sure that I gave review copies of 6 Billion to all the major German language magazines, namely Die Poppel Revue, Spielbox, Fair Play and Spielerei. Also, a copy went to Chris Bayliss' English publication Games Gazette. Copies also went to all the major German games companies. It was especially nice to meet Joe Nikisch of Abacus Spiele given that I usually buy my German games from him and his wife Pia. I owe a special thanks to Dr. Helmut Wresnick for obtaining my invite to the Spiel des Jahre judges' games evening, which I attended with Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games. I also got to meet Alan Moon. As per tradition, the 2 copies of 6 Billion which I took along for the evening will end up at the Deutches Spiele-Archiv, Marburg. The evening ended quicker than usual, which was a shame, but it turned out that Ken Tidwell and Alan Moon and associates were staying at a hotel scarcely a block from my guest house!
Sunday was business as usual, so I'm at a loss to adequately explain Saturday. A German friend of mine, Jörg Grefe, had travelled down from Hannover and spent the afternoon at the fair. He was most impressed, having never been before, and was also keen to watch 6 Billion in action on the demo table. I'd met Jörg years before when we travelled together for a while when backpacking around Australia. We had climbed Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) and canoed the Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory together. We had a lot of catching up to do in Essen, so had dinner afterwards. Jörg helped me pack my remaining games onto a pallet, currently safely stored in Germany.
On reflection, I made at least 2 mistakes. I should have organised to have fliers in English and German for interested people to take with them. And, I should have had at least 2 demo tables going. There were always people interested, except that strange Saturday, and I think I would have sold out if I had done so! The sale rate was high for people who actually played the game, or had it demonstrated to them. Thanks to all who bought a copy!
As it was, I sold / traded about 140 and gave away about 15 review / free copies.
Finally, I see a couple of photographs of me or my stand made it onto the Internet - see KMWs Spielplatz and following the links for Verlag on the Spiel '99 photographs link.
On Monday 25th October I travelled by train from Essen to Frankfurt International Airport. I bumped into two of Spiel '98's tribe of Chris's (see Counter issue 3) at Essen Haupt Bahnhof (main railway station). These guys know their trains, and soon had me standing at the correct spot for my carriage. Thanks! The train journey to Frankfurt, especially the bit along the Rhine, is simply beautiful.
Door to door, Essen to sleepy old Chippenham in Wiltshire, took 12 hours! True, I'd had to get to the post office early to ship games (which I'd traded for copies of 6 Billion) back to Australia. And, now that British rail is no more (and I may be the only person who regrets their passing!), it took a coach and 2 trains to get from Heathrow to Chippenham. Most unpleasant.
Apart from an afternoon spent shopping and seeing my friends Dave & Sian Dudman in gorgeous, Georgian Bath (where I had lived for 7 years), I spent the next 4 and a half days in Chippenham at my Dad's house. I did get to catch up with Mike Oakes, a regular Counter contributor, who lives in Chippenham. I once got a mention in Sumo for giving Mike a job! My good friend (and international jet setter) Neil Carpenter travelled from London to say hello, and ended up taking me to Heathrow the next day! I also met Brian Hoare, another Chippenham gamer, who had been advertising on the uk.games.board for Cosmic Encounter opponents. I replied from Melbourne, but we ended up playing 6 Billion with Neil, which went down well all round. I also met an old school friend for the first time in 8 or 9 years, Antony Knight.
And, it was good to see my friend John Matthews again.
Lastly, I got the local press interested enough to do an article about me and 6 Billion. Well, I won't be retiring to fame and fortune just yet, but it was a bit of fun.
The Journey Back Again
The trip home was even more tiring than the one coming! Having left Chippenham at about 2.00pm on Saturday, 30th October, I arrived in Melbourne at about 7.00am on Monday 1st November! Even allowing for crossing the International timeline, it was very, very hard... Would I do it again? Oh yes!
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