Essen Spiel is the biggest board gaming event of the world. It’s a huge event and this year it attracted a record-breaking 209,000 attendees.
But if you couldn’t make the trek to Essen, Germany? Don’t let the FOMO kill you, I’ve reached out to some fellow content creators, publishers/designers, and attendees to share with us their top game and experience highlights from Essen Spiel 2019.
Essen Spiel 2019 Game and Experience Highlights
Danny Quach (DannyPlaysGamez)
Summary: Streaming/Playing Paranormal Detectives and meeting the other members of his podcast in person
This was my first Spiel and and was a whirlwind of a ride. After the initial shock of the vastness of the 7-8 halls that I could traverse and the reported 209,000 people that reportedly attended the fair, this convention was magical. Coming from the states and meeting friends and content creators in an international setting was absolutely surreal. Meeting people who support you and visa versa all the way across the world is exciting and humbling all at the same time. Games are amazing and Spiel is a bonkers experience, but the people you meet and the friends you make are what makes any con experience memorable.
For me, one of the highlights was that I got to spend my first Spiel with my newly-formed podcast, Variable Player Power (@VariablePlayer on Twitter/Instagram/facebook). Me, Ella (@ellalovesbg) and Theo (@geekygaymerguy) got to be on the official Spiel livestream and one of the best experiences I had was live-streaming with Vince from Lucky Duck Games, playing their new game Paranormal Detectives. In this game, you have one ghost (me) who died and the rest of the crew must figure out the classic questions: who killed you, with what, how you died, what was the motive, and where did it take place. They’re doing this by asking questions but having to play cards that restrict the ghost on how to deliver the information. For example, I might have to pantomime how I died, or draw on someone’s back the murder weapon, or communicate who killed me by mouthing just one word. It’s an amazing, interactive game that provides a fun narrative, a creative space and just an absolutely funny time around the table, and definitely the game of the convention for me!
Paul Grogan (Gaming Rules!)
Summary: Hosting a meetup, going to the Spiel des Jahres party, and streaming Caylus 1303
Essen Spiel 2019 was my 20th visit, and one of my best. Although the event is now “all work” for me, and I didn’t get to play really anything myself, I feel like I managed a bit step forward in becoming more a part of the industry and hobby. I hosted my own very busy meetup, I was invited to the SdJ party as Vlaada Chvatil’s +1, and I got to take part in an Asmodee Live stream where I taught Caylus 1303, sat next to William Attia, which, considering I was a huge fan of the original game, was a very proud moment.
Summary: Feeling a part of the gaming community and playing a special “scavenger hunt”.
For many folks, SPIEL is about the hot new game releases. While that is certainly a major part of my desire for being in Essen during prime treespotting season in New England, my main draw is the feeling of being at the nexus of our hobby’s energy. In the mornings, there are overcrowded train platforms from throngs of fair-goers either trying to avoid a large carbon footprint or the hours long wait for a parking space at the garage. In the afternoon, bustling demo tables play just outside meeting rooms where the hot releases for 2020 and beyond are being planned. Long into the night, lubricated discussions and fresh cardboard come alive in hotel lobbies trafficked by cognoscenti and neophytes alike. I stay lubricated, turn in rather early, and find myself somewhere between the two categories of both the knowledgable/new and discussing/playing.
My highlight of the fair has never been a game title in particular, but rather the people I run into throughout the week. This year I had a few free hours so I asked folks back home who they wanted me to give a hello to. The answers left me with some “ok, so how do I find THIS person?” but I did my best to seek everyone out, inform them of the mission and send a worthy selfie back to my pals. Some folks even sought me out, knowing I was on the hunt! I met into people I never would have met otherwise, hugged folks hailing from Tokyo and Tehran, and doubled back to friends that I’d seen only ten minutes earlier just so I could pass on a hello from 3,500 miles away. For me games have always been about the people around the table. SPIEL gives me a chance to play it out on a global scale. If you happen to see me at SPIEL or any other convention, please say hello. You’re a part of what makes this hobby so much fun for me.
Monique Macasaet (Before You Play)
Summary: Glen Moore II, the universality of board gaming across cultures, and meeting Vital Lacerda
This was our third time attending Essen Spiel but it was a special experience for us since it was our first time going as content creators! Even if it felt different, the magic of the spiel was still very much so present. The thing that I really love about this particular convention is that we are always able to meet gamers from all around the world. We may not speak the same language but we all share one thing, which is a love for board games.
This year some highlights for me included finally meeting T. Caires (@theonetar), demoing “Letter Jam” with the one-and-only Paul Grogan, and playing a game of “Glen More II” at the VIP demoing table, which was EXCELLENT by the way. Definitely our favorite game of the spiel. We also played (and picked up) a handful of games from smaller publishers, which was so fun! Super sad it’s over but we cannot wait to play all of these new games.
Kat Demeanour (I Play Red)
Summary: Finding out about the kindness of strangers and playing the Mind: Extreme
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, no, Christmas is months away! It’s Internationale Spieltage aka Essen or Spiel, the biggest gaming convention in the world. This was our seventh year and each year we watch it grow bigger. It’s also great to see games from all over the world. This year included booths from Indonesia, Iran and Tawain to name a few.
While we obviously came home with a lot of games, we haven’t had a chance to play through many yet. However, we had a few games of The Mind: Extreme at the hotel on Saturday night. Wow – is this game frustrating (in the best possible way!) We managed to get to level six on our first attempt and subsequent games we came nowhere close! In the original The Mind, players have cards numbered between 1 and 100 and have to place them in ascending numerical order without talking, just placing when they feel it’s the right time. In The Mind: Extreme, not only are there two piles, one going up and one going down but some rounds are placed face down so you have nothing but your intuition to go on. This is the sort of game you play multiple times in an attempt to beat it – good luck with that!
We all know that Spiel is a cash-heavy environment, each year there are multiple stands targeted by groups of organised thieves. On Thursday morning, within an hour of the show opening, someone we knew came upto us in a complete panic. When buying a game he had lost a bundle of cash (close to 2000 euroes)! We helped him check his pockets and all his bags to no avail. He headed off to find and talk to security while we all lamented that the money was lost for good. The next day we caught up with him to find a huge smile on his face, someone had found his money and handed it into security! We really couldn’t believe his luck – just goes to show there are some great and honest people in the world that also happen to be gamers!
We got back late Sunday night from Germany and unloaded the car. Exhausted, exhilarated and excited at the amazing array of games we bought back. Now begins the work… Sorting out the content for the stacks of games piled around our house, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Summary: playing Board Royale and feeling the enthusiasm of the other attendees
Wow, Essen Spiel 2019 certainly delivered! It was an amazing experience for both me and my family. I entered the game fair with my wife, my 4-year-old daughter, and my 6-year-old son. I had some trepidation due to the crowds, but it ended being fine and brilliantly set-up for all gamers, both young and old. We only spent 8.5 hours we were there but had an amazing time. Although, we only covered about half of the floor, what we saw was an event full of happy, friendly, and enthusiastic people that rejoiced in their communal love for all things cardboard, wood, and plastic.
There were so many highlights for me, but one that stood out from the rest was meeting the designer of Board Royale and playing a game with him (along with two other random gamers). Board Royale is a Kickstarter that I backed based on the name alone! So, I was keen to actually check it out. The game was only in demo stage, but it played great. Our 4-players game lasted about 25-minutes. The satisfaction of getting a few sequential actions in on your turn was wonderful, and using the various powers provided by the tools was immensely fun. I especially enjoyed the crow bar! Roll on in March when the game lands!
Summary: playing nany games, Including Crokinole an Trails of Tucana
It’s the end of October and that can mean only one thing, Spiel also known as a board gamers Christmas come early. We left by car at 7 a.m. to arrive in Essen at around 9 a.m. Living within driving distance from the event means I can fit all the new games in the back of my car and not have to worry about how much I can fit in my suitcase.
First stop of the day was the Studio H booth to secure a copy of Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea. This worker placement game started out as an expansion to Snowdonia but ended up being so big that it became a standalone game. Haven’t played Snowdonia but I like the theme and I’m a sucker for worker placement games.
Next we wondered through the halls for a bit having a look at a couple of games but with no free tables we decided to play some Klask and the four player variant, Klask 4. If you haven’t heard of Klask, think air hockey but with a ball and magnets.
After dropping of the enormous Crokinole board in the car we went back in to the Messe to play some Maracaibo. We only played two rounds but it’s another fantastic game by Alexander Pfister. I had pre-ordered the game so I grabbed my copy and also Cooper Island, both games are published by Capstone Games who seem to be bringing out hit after hit this year.
After seeing the Bloom Town playthrough by Rahdo it made my “want to play” list so we decided to go there. Played the game and really liked it. For what looked like a simple tile laying game it actually had some nice depth and meaningful decisions to it.
Last stop of the day was Aporta Games to pick up my pre-ordered copy of Trails of Tucana. A really fun and quick roll-and-write or actually flip-and-write. After all this it was time to go home again.
One day really isn’t enough to see and experience all that Spiel has to offer so next year I’m going multiple days. The hotel is already booked so I’m ready for Spiel 2020!”
Ross (More Games Please)
Summary: Streaming Concept on Admodee Live, Paranormal Detectives, and experiencing Essen as an exhibitor
This years Essen was a particularly special one for me. This time I wasn’t attending as the general public but had organized and would be running the Alley Cat Games stand in Hall 5. Seeing a convention from the side of an exhibitor was a totally new experience for me and I have to say getting to interact and teach games to so many different people during the convention was such incredible fun. You just have to make sure you don’t lose your voice!
Another huge highlight has to be getting invited as a guest onto the Asmodee Live stage for their twitch stream. We played Concept, although an older release, totally new to me and playing it in realtime with the twitch audience was a ton of fun.
Finally, the surprise hit of the convention for me was Paranormal Detectives, a game where you are trying to solve a murder, with the help of the ghost. The game is competitive but there are shared clues you get to hear, and trying to figure out how best to ask the ghost questions is a big part of the fun. It’s mechanically different but if I want a spooky game of ghosts and murder this one beats Mysterium in my opinion.
Luke Hector (The Broken Meeple)
Summary: Connecting with others around board games and playingAbyss: Conspiracy
Essen is firstly about the people, board games come second. Experiencing Essen is about meeting new folks to play games with and re-connecting with personalities, bloggers and fellow gamers that you may not have seen for a long time. It’s a reminder of why the board game community is a great one.
Many will focus on heavier, more strategic titles with big boxes, but I feel that does a disservice to the smaller games that deserve equal recognition. For that purpose I draw your attention to Abyss: Conspiracy from Bombyx. Besides looking gorgeous it condenses tactical choices, quick decisions and combo plays within 20-30 minutes. Comes in a tiny box and costs next to nothing, yet it remains one of my unexpected game highlights.
Calvin Wong (Ding and Dent / BoardGamePrices)
Summary: Playing Kung Fur Fight
My hidden surprise of the convention is a 2-player dueling game called Kung Fur Fight. The art is gorgeous and it’s a really strong game of resource allocation and mental battles. I’m so excited that more games by Asian women are being made and that this one in particular is so good.
My favorite experience is hugging all my twitter friends that I never get to see in real life.
Summary: Meeting game designers, experiencing the excitement of Spiel, and the food
“Going to Essen Spiel 2019 was only my second convention (first was UKGE this year). I came prepared with preview list from BGG, hall plans and pre-orders. I was expecting it to be overwhelming and feeling lost. I was lucky to get a ticket to the Preview night, which was a new thing they tried, where you can try some of the games the day before. For the same price as the whole event, there wasn’t enough tables or free space to play games. It could get better with every year, and I appreciate the idea, both for the price it’s not worth it for me.
Standing cramped in a hall waiting to get the doors open seems like a waste of 1 hour, just to get to the games and tables first, so the next days I spend the time playing a few games with someone I met.
I did not expect people to clap when the doors opened, but the excitement was really high.
Oh the temperature was high in the halls, and people every already standing in line for games or tables. I quickly found my way through the halls, as it was so well marked with small booth numbers and the pattern in the naming, and the good signs.
Getting over the Con Crud – I guess I tried it all at Essen.— Paws vs Pawns (Dorte) (@PawsvsPawns) October 31, 2019
Such a great first time – loved meeting designers, “The Dice Tower” and “BGG” and playing a lot of games. Never played so many in so little days. It was easy to find someone to play with – being alone ?@SPIEL_Messe pic.twitter.com/LBnHfanJcO
Traveling on my own and having a boyfriend who claims to hate board games, playing a lot of games was high priority for me, and I actually found it quite easy to find people to play with, as I was just +1 – sure I had to sometimes spend some times walking in the different halls or waiting at some tables to find a spot. The people are so friendly opting to get games explained in English, even though I understand most German and they had a bit trouble with English.
Meeting your favorite designers and content creators (BGG, the Dice tower etc.) and playing prototypes is one of the things that makes this convention even better.
And the food – many different food trucks will help you quench your hunger, so you can spend more time playing and walking around the halls”.
Johannes Lindrupsen (Board Gaming Ramblings)
Summary: Playing Pharaon and demoing games
Spiel 19 was another amazing experience. All the people, all the people, too many people, and just a bunch of amazing games!
Sunniva and I were lucky enough to be working with Forbidden Games at the show, and that gave us a new point of view, as demoers. It was so much fun to be able to help people learn and play great games, and just make people smile, laugh, and enjoy themselves.
All through the week, when I was working, meeting publishers, and walking around, all I could think about was how cool it is that so many happy people are in these halls right now. Most of them are super tired, but also so happy to be here, to play new games, pitch their new games ideas, or sell their new games hot off the press. That feeling of us all being connected and being part of this hobby made me so happy.
We ended each night playing games at one of the hotels, and even though we didn’t play any breathtaking games, just getting to play with people we meet once or twice a year was more important than playing my new favorite game.
If you are looking for recommendations, the best game we played at the fair was Pharaon. A cool little resource management, action selection game that we enjoyed.
Josef Sannholm (Boardgames with Niramas)
Summary: Attending the Alea 20th anniversary event and playing Silver with Ted Alspach
So it was that time of year again, Essen Spiel! I was so excited to get back and this time I had my plans in better order than last year. 38 meetings in 5 days and expected a bunch of random ones to happen as well.
As I walked in the hall 3 on Wednesday morning, with my press pass wavering to this years stepped up security at the doors I felt my whole body just filled with joy, excitement and expectations! Five days later as I enjoyed just sitting down on the airplane home, body felt broken and my mind all empty and exhausted, but with a smile still on my lips, I must say this had been the best week of the year for me.
Highlights: Alea 20 years event at Atlantic Hotel, got invited as international press, and it was a blast, meeting fellow YouTubers (No Pun Included) and got to shake hands with my favourite designer, Stefan Feld! Also played Silver with the designer Ted Alspach and much more, what a fun lunch! In the evening that same Friday I had my own event at Atlantic hotel where invited backers and fans got to play my own just released game, Drako’s Adventure and it was such a good time ?
Games played: Only played a full game during the Spiel, Glenmore 2, was a really fun game and cant wait to play it again! Also such fun to play it with the lovley Navid and Monique from the Youtube channel “Before You Play”!
Uli Blennemann (Spielworxx)
Summary: Seeing friends and watching people enjoy board games
Meeting friends again. Meeting new people. Seeing a lot of people enjoying board games. Surviving.
Antoinette (Board Game Inquisition)
Summary: Meeting people you’ve spoken to online and demoing Fortune City
My Spiel was definitely a more people orientated one. There is little more lovely than having the opportunity to meet people you interacted with or got to know online. Except of course for having them be nice and welcoming human beings too. It felt a little bit like coming home actually.
But since Spiel is of course about games my highlight has to be demoing Fortune City at the TBD booth. They had a host of colourful and interesting games but this little city builder stood out. You even get your own credit card to play with! It was fun, easy and had a great twist. This year’s Spiel was special for all sorts of reasons (mostly that I made it there and back) and I’ve returned full of excitement and ideas!
There’s a common thread among these contributions: Essen Spiel is much more about the people and experiences than the board games themselves!
More than likely though, you came here curious about the hot game releases. Let’s take a quick moment to examine these.
Best of Essen Spiel 2019
Every year, BoardGameGeek asks its users who attend Essen Spiel to vote on their top games of the show. Anyone passing by their booth has an opportunity to vote and the results are compiled into a leaderboard.
Top 50 Essen Spiel Games:
According to BGG users who attended SPIEL, the top games were:
- The Magnificent
- Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula
- It’s a Wonderful World
- Bruxelles 1897
- Cooper Island
- Glen More II: Chronicles
- Ecos: First Continent
- Azul: Summer Pavilion
- Black Angel
- Teotihuacan: Late Preclassic Period
- Last Bastion
- Underwater Cities: New Discoveries
- Escape Tales: Low Memory
- TEAM3 PINK
- Fast Sloths
- Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North
- Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
- Orléans Stories
- Pirates Under Fire
- Nova Luna
- Food Chain Magnate: The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas
- Bloom Town
- Terraforming Mars: Turmoil
- Rune Stones
- Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea
- Suburbia: Collector’s Edition
- MegaCity: Oceania
- Colors of Paris
- Big Monster
- La Stanza
- Fuji Koro
- Deep Blue
- On the Origin of Species
- Expedition to Newdale
- On Mars
- Trails of Tucana
- Castello Methoni
- Yukon Airways
(See here for a complete list)
I previously published my personal list of anticipated games released at Essen Spiel 2019. How did my picks compare?
My Essen Game Fair Picks vs. BoardGameGeek Essen Rank
- Maracaibo – Was voted GeekBuzz #13th top game of Essen Spiel
- Expedition to Newdale – Was voted GeekBuzz #44th top game of Essen Spiel
- Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula – Was voted #3rd top game of Essen Spiel
- Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea – Was voted #33rd top game of Essen Spiel
- Crystal Palace – Was voted #68th top game of Essen Spiel
- Cooper Island – Was voted #7th top game of Essen Spiel
- Terramara – Was voted #10th top game of Essen Spiel
- Food Chain Magnate: The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas – Was voted #29th top game of Essen Spiel
- Marco Polo II – Was voted GeekBuzz #93rd top game of Essen Spiel
- The Castles of Burgundy (2019 Edition w/ Expansions) – Was voted GeekBuzz #67th top game of Essen Spiel
How did my honorable mentions perform?
- Terra Mystica: Merchants of the Sea – Was voted GeekBuzz #58th top game of Essen Spiel
- Troyes Dice – Was votes GeekBuzz #307th top game of Essen Spiel
- Masters of Renaissance: Lorenzo Il Magnifico – The Card Game – Was voted #76th top game of Essen Spiel
- Orléans: Stories – Was voted #25th top game of Essen Spiel
- Bruxelles 1897 – Was voted #6th top game of Essen Spiel
- Pax Transhumanity – Was voted #283rd top game of Essen Spiel
- Zona: The Secret of Chernobyl – Was voted #153rd top game of Essen Spiel
- Caylus 1303 – Wasn’t released
- The Magnificent – Was voted #1st top game of Essen Spiel
- Mezo – Was voted #327th top game of Essen Spiel
- Chicago 1875/City of the Big Shoulders – Was voted #134th top game of Essen Spiel [Board Game Squad Review]
- Throne of Allegoria – Was voted #84th top game of Essen Spiel
Stay tuned for reviews of many of these titles and more upcoming on the blog.
Thanks to all those who contributed, allowing us to all live vicariously though your experiences and gaming adventures.
Paul Shapiro is Founder and Editor of Board Game Squad. He enjoys all types of games and experiences, but has a particular penchant for medium to heavy eurogames.