We are doing something new starting this month: we’ve invited some of the finest minds and wittiest wordsmiths to pen something for our lowly site, so as to make it seem like less of a soapbox for two opinionated gamer hipsters, and more of a proper wooden pulpit. The illustrious Tony Boydell (work force of Surprised Stare Games – and more importantly creator of Guilds of London will kick off this bi-weekly column).
It’s October which means almost 100% of my gaming thoughts turn, inevitably, to Essen Spiel. Since I am part of a small, independent publisher – Surprised Stare Games Ltd – all, bar one, of our visits have been with an Exhibitor’s Stand at the end of it. Thus, my experience of the biggest-and-best games Fair in the world has been from a behind-the-scenes POV, which means that I have never suffered the interminable, Autumnally-chilly Thursday morning queue OR the tsunami of wobbling geek bodies extruding through the turnstiles OR the panicked dash to ‘Place X’ to collect ‘Promo Y’/limited English language edition of ‘Game Z’ before its all gone.
Instead, I can wander the cavernous Halls on the setup days (Tuesday/Wednesday) and am free to chat-and-blag without pressure; patting pallets of shrink-wrapped goodness as I pass, calling out a cheery ‘Halloo’ and generally feeling much more important than you lot. When ‘the show’ has properly kicked-off, I can cock my snook at the early-bird public – sitting on their rucksacks on the concourse or shambling out of the U-bahn – an hour before opening and, maybe, withdraw some Euros from the Messe cashpoint while it still has notes in it or even – and this is the most precious privilege of all – take a poo in a toilet facility that still flushes.
Aside: For exhibitor and punter alike, easy and regular access to food and water is important as neglecting one’s nutrition/hydration will only lead to rasping voices and light-headiness: try and avoid paying Messe prices for such items by taking a trip to the supermarket on the way in or sneaking a couple of extra rolls off the hotel’s breakfast buffet.
However, it’s not all gravy for ‘we, the elite’: the set-up day is fraught with interruptions from ‘the Press’ who, like us, get to mooch around, dodging fork-lifts and that surly, moustachioed ‘bear’ of a German with the giant wheelie-bin (the one who seems permanently-enraged that we have rubbish to be disposed of). The ‘Press’ come in all shapes-and-sizes from the legitimate ‘published’ journo (nice clothes and, possibly, a hat; doesn’t stink like a rat’s arsehole) to the ‘happy internet amateur’ (runs a website only read by his mates) or – sweet Barnaby Rudge preserve me – the ‘podcaster’. Time spent schmoozing might be good for ‘exposure’ but it also hoovers up VCT (Valuable Collecting Time)! Another disadvantage is the duration of a show day itself: 10AM through to 7PM. That’s nine hours of standing, leaning, smiling and demoing in a voice loud enough to rise above the hubbub; that’s 540 minutes of being asked ‘Could I take one of the Demo copies at the end of the show?’ or ‘Could I have a discount because I am a reviewer, please?’ (bloody Rahdo!) or ‘Could you tell me where there is a toilet not overflowing with wurst und kartoffel?’
Oh, I’m not really complaining; Essen Spiel is utterly fantastic and breathlessly-wonderful and undoubtedly the best place for a gamer to be, so make sure to pop by Stand 2-E119 (that’s in Hall 2) and say ‘Hi!’. I might even have a promo for you…