It’s coming! 5 Essen Spiel off-piste newbie tips

Essen 2015 logoWith the number one event on the worldwide board gaming calendar – the Internationale Spieltage Spiel ’15 in Essen – just two months away, I’m already getting stupidly excited.

This year’s event will be the biggest yet, moving up to 63,000 sq m of convention hall space (from 58,000 last year), with a staggering 850+ exhibitors flogging they’re cardy, dicey and boardy wares. This will be my fourth time attending, but each time feels just as good as the previous visits.

But if you’re heading to Essen Spiel for your début gaming Mecca experience, here are a few things that I feel shouldn’t be missed but that may not be immediately obvious to the goggle-eyed and overwhelmed first-timer. I’d also suggest checking out my Essen Guide for travel, hotel and Spiel tips. See you in the mad throng!

  1. Österreichisches Spiele Museum: The Austrian Boardgame Museum is a charity that hosts a collection of more than 25,000 board games. Each year the charity has a stand at Essen with a couple of new games on sale, donated to support the charity and often from highly reputable designers. Recent offerings include the original version of Port Royal (Handler der Karibik) and a Bohnanza variant (Sissi!) from Uwe Rosenberg – plus the games are usually cheap, the money goes to a good cause and they’ll throw a bunch of other promos into your bag if you smile sweetly.
  2. Istra Steakhaus: Germany is well known as a carnivorous nation and my favourite restaurant in the city so far is the traditional meat fest of the Istra Steakhaus. Handily located on Rüttenscheider Straße – the nicer of the roads that connects the Messe to the city centre – I’ve had several meaty meals there over the years and never been anything other than well satisfied with the food and also the beer. Expect a ‘traditional’ German welcome (ie, surly) but hey – it’s all part of the experience and they’re a friendly bunch once you engage them.
  3. Adlung-Spiel: If you’re from outside Germany you may not be aware of this little card game publisher, who always has a tiny booth squirrelled away in a corner of the Messe. Its games are always in a traditional single card deck-sized box, but can vary from drafting and hand management through bidding and bluffing to children’s and dexterity games. Much like an OSM game above, these are great Essen mementoes. Classic titles include Meuterer, Vom Kap bis Kairo and Blink.
  4. Grugapark: Depending on how you arrive at the Messe, it can actually be easy to miss the fact that the north and west sides of the huge conference centre are dwarfed by a huge and lovely country park. Even if you don’t have time for a wander around, or if the weather isn’t playing ball, you can sneak out of Hall 2 on its western edge onto a balcony (mainly wasted on smokers) that has a lovely, peaceful view over the greenery, deer and other tranquil sites – perfect for taking a 10-minute break away from the bedlam inside the main halls.
  5. Toys ‘R’ Us: This one may only apply to us Brits, but wandering into this store (which is just a five minute walk from the central Essen Hbf station) its a sobering indictment of the state of the high street for board gamers in the UK. Where in England its wall-to-wall Barbie, Lego and Frozen, at Toys ‘R’ Us in Germany you’ll also find everything from Arkham Horror and Dominion through to the latest Spiel des Jahres nominees. You may find some classics cheaper than at the Messe – but remember language dependency!

Report: My first UK Games Expo

UK Games ExpoLast week I attended my first UK Games Expo in Birmingham. Having been spoilt by Essen over the years I’d never considered this a ‘must see’ convention, as it’s a 10th of the size, but this year I made the time to make it happen.

And – spoiler alert – I’m thoroughly glad I did. I had a fantastic time throughout, didn’t get to do half what I should have, but came home with a host of new games, new friends and great memories.

First, the boring (but significant) stuff: The organisers estimated they had 7,000 unique attendees (up 20 per cent on 2014) over the three days, with a total footfall attendance of 14,000 (up 40 per cent, but it was a day longer than last year) – impressive numbers by any standards. And the event is growing too, with 1,000 tables setup in the NEC Hilton for the weekend – that’s a lot of gaming!

As a holidaymaker

UKGE through the ages

First look at the new edition of Through the Ages, still in prototype form (so all this can still change)

However good the Expo itself was, you can’t get away from the fact it’s in one of the blandest, most soulless locations in the UK.

The NEC complex is a built-for-purpose money-grabbing warehouse-come-car park and the hotel I ended up in – The Crowne Plaza – was more of the same. Comfy but sterile, unfriendly and overpriced (£14 for breakfast you say? What if I just want cereal…?).

The Expo itself was held at the NEC Hilton which, while in the same price bracket, does at least have some personality. But what was truly remarkable was how open they were to the event. Throughout the weekend every available table, windowsill and corner had a game being played in it – often accompanied by greasy slabs of cardboard bought from the (really rather good) food trucks outside the hotel. But the staff were polite and patient in the face of what must have felt like some kind of natural disaster aftermath.

As a publisher

UKGE the dwarves

First look at the English version of ‘The Dwarves’ from publisher Pegasus

With my blogger’s hat on I spoke to representatives from a lot of publishers and retailers over the weekend, from main sponsors Mayfair to one-man-bands with a 10-ft table and one game to sell – and in all honesty I didn’t hear a single dissenting voice.

Of course there were minor quibbles – press events ending just as the main doors opened; the doors opening 30 minutes earlier than expected on one day; some rather unfortunate placements between inappropriate stands etc. But these were always brought up in the context of having a great show overall.

And this year’s publisher list was notably impressive. While many didn’t have their key staff on show, or large stands, you can’t argue with a line up that includes Fantasy Flight, Days of Wonder, Mayfair, Asmodee, Pegasus, Czech Games Edition and Queen Games – alongside the likes of Esdevium and Coiled Spring.

As a gamer

UKGE the game

Playing Spiel des Jahres nominee The Game

The Expo had set aside tonnes of open gaming space as well as nine board game tournaments, including the official UK championships for Catan, Carcassonne and Mage Wars (plus CCG Yu-Gi-Oh).

While at times near capacity, and tricky to find a large table at times, overall the system worked well.

The Thirsty Meeples game cafe ran the games library and all agreed it was a vast improvement on previous years – although at peak times the selection grew pretty thin. Oddly an insider told me Thirsty Meeples had wanted to bring more games but had been limited to 500, so hopefully next year’s selection will be even better.

People in general were friendly, making for a nice atmosphere. I shared a lot of silly conversations with those gaming on adjacent tables, and chats with people wondering what game I was playing. But it was hot and noisy and I wouldn’t want to play a long thinky game there. Highlights for me included Welcome to the Dungeon, Smash Up, The Game, Hawaii and Red7. I even managed to hold my tongue when a couple of ladies next to us were saying how ‘brilliant’ the Firefly board game was…

As an explorer

UKGE terror bull

Terror Bull Games’ Tom and Andrew preaching the Hen Commandments

I’m afraid this is where my coverage takes a nosedive, as I spent precisely zero time getting out of my comfort zone. I’m going to make a solemn promise that next year I’ll do at least a few sessions of miniatures, war games or role playing games.

Despite my adsence there was a lot of it going on and I heard some fun stories while chilling in the bar, overhearing other tables’ conversations. I know the Cardboard Console podcast guys got their feet wet in the RPG pool a few times, so listen out for their exploits in future episodes.

There were some great cosplay outfits on show too – shame on me for not getting any pics, but I’m sure there will be loads at the Expo site (linked above).

My favourite was definitely a Jawa – mostly because they had a speaker with all the cute sound effects that take me back to being seven years old. Wootini ftw! And there were some impressive remote control Daleks – that voice is still pretty menacing…

As a tester

UKGE art

Some great board game graphic design and art from Vicki Dalton

The Playtest UK area was a definite highlight for me, being filled to capacity pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday with about 15 unpublished games running at a time. I got a few hours of testing in on Saturday afternoon, then helped out as a volunteer for the last few hours of the day.

What I didn’t expect was to have people turning up saying they’d actually sought us out and wanted to ‘help’ – alongside people who would test one game, then come back to us a little while later and ask to test a different one. Rather than trying to reach out to passing traffic to try and get them involved, we were more often telling people they’d have to wait a few minutes for a slot to appear.

It’s hard to know if people realised that many of those testing games there over the weekend were published designers – the UK Expo award winner for Strategic Card and Dice Games this year was Elysium, whose designers spent almost the whole weekend helping organise r testing their games in the area.

Raise a glass to the volunteers – and the organisers

UKGE cycling party

Spanish game Cycling Party, brought to the UK by Games Quest

Overall I think it’s impossible to see the 2015 UK Games Expo as anything other than a huge success. There are of course lots of areas for improvement (I’ll certainly be emailing the organisers with my thoughts as a journalist who has visited many such events but has never felt so unsupported) but overall – win.

I think what I found most impressive was either the amazing attitude of everyone involved – especially all the volunteers, who need a massive pat on the back – but also how all this was achieved with ever-changing goal posts.

Every year the Expo has grown a significant amount, reflecting both the word-of-mouth goodwill for the event and the growth in popularity of the hobby games industry.

To be able to both improve and expand on the top line numbers while responding to the mistakes of previous years – while keeping both traders and punters appeased in the middle of it all – is a real achievement.

Bring on 2016

UKGE my games

My personal haul for the weekend – reviews of them all on the way!

And next year will be even bigger. While I’m not keen on the warehouse that is the NEC I can see the wisdom of moving the retail arm of the Expo into its wide open spaces – but equally note the importance of keeping its heart in the Hilton.

This is going to be a tricky balance to pull off but I think it should work: the trade areas will close as usual at 5pm and gaming in the hotel will go on until you want to go to bed – its just that you’ll have a five-minute walk between the two venues.

I’ve already put the 2016 Expo in my calendar (June 3-5 if you’re interested) – see you there!

Get into board games: Five reasons to go to the UK Games Expo, May 29-31

UK Games ExpoWith just a week to go until the UK Games Expo in Birmingham I thought I’d give it a quick plug. It is the UK’s biggest convention dedicated purely to hobby gaming and it’s getting bigger each year, in line with the hobby itself.

The three-day event at Hilton Birmingham Metropole (at the NEC) runs 2-7pm on Friday, 9.30am-5pm Saturday and 9.30am-4pm Sunday. And it won’t break the bank, with day tickets just over £10 and a day family ticket at £30.

This will be my first year attending the Expo as I’m usually away during school half term. But I’m really looking forward to it, as its an event a lot of my friends put in the calendar before all others at the start of their year’s planning. If you’ve got nothing planned for this particular end of half term, and are within reach of Birmingham NEC, what have you got to lose! So what’s it all about?

1. Get back into gaming in ‘The Family Zone’

One of the largest open gaming areas at the show is the Family Zone. There will be a massive range of family games to try your hand at, as well as areas to get your creative hat on too (they’ll be everything from story telling to designing). Run by Imagination Gaming, its the perfect area for those rediscovering the hobby, as Imagination staff will be on hand to help you choose the right game for your group – whether all adult or with your kids too. Allegedly they’ll have 150 games to choose from too, so you shouldn’t get bored! And if you find games you like, you’ll be able to pick many of them up at the store too.

2. Putting games to the test

Hundreds of new board and card games are released each year – which all have to be rigorously tested. It’s a tough process for designers but it can be a lot of fun too – and you can be part of it. Playtest UK will be at the event all weekend, with budding and published designers looking for members of the public to try out and give feedback on their latest designs. Who knows – you may get a chance to change a rule in the next Ticket to Ride or Magic: The Gathering! Or if you feel you want to get involved, there will be chances to put your own design skills to the test with the board game redesign competition.

3. Get your geek on: dress to impress

young or old, many people like to get costumed up for a bit of a party – and parties don’t come much bigger than this. The UK Games Expo is also a celebration of all things geeky, so if you want to dress up as an elf or a super hero knock yourself out – you’ll be in good company (you can bet there will be plenty of daleks, stormtroopers and the like to mingle and your selfies with too). Cosplay is another growing hobby, with people spending an incredible amount of time getting their costumes as accurate as possible (some of them are amazing) – and it’s a great way to liven up the even with a bit of extra colour.

4. Open gaming – board games, competitions and RPGs

Open gaming is one of the highlights of any board gaming convention, and the UK Games Expo is no exception. At various places and points during the event there will be room for up to and over 1,000 people to sit down and play games – with hundreds available to borrow from the in-house games library (run this year by the fabulous Thirsty Meeples cafe from Oxford). But you can also sign up to join in with a host of role-playing games; or sign up to be in a tournament if you really want to get your game face on.

5. Let’s get serious: A gaming education

There will also be more than 20 seminars running over the weekend, ranging in topic from how to publish your own game right through to a sci-fi quiz. Some big names in gaming will be attendance for Q&As, including Eric Lang (Chaos in the Old World, Dice Masters, Game of Thrones card game) and Monica Valentinelli (Firefly RPG), while you’ll be able to get tips on everything from fiction writing to running successful competitions and events. Personally I’m looking forward to news on the 2016 expansion into the NEC itself!

I’m arriving Thursday evening and will be there pretty much throughout the weekend. You can see a pic of me on the ‘about’ page here: if you read this blog at all, do come up and say hello! It’s going to be a great weekend of gaming, but more importantly socialising. See you in the halls – or in the bar!

LoBsterCon, April 2015: Gaming goodness by the sea

Best Western EastbourneFor nearly a decade the world’s largest board game meet up group, London on Board, has been spending two weekends a year by the seaside.

Each spring and autumn a growing number (almost 100 this time) of gamers head down to the York House Best Western Hotel on Eastbourne’s seafront for a mix of games, food, ice cream and alcohol – with quantities varying depending on the individual. I tend to skip the food and ice cream as much as possible to save money for booze, but do take plenty of gaming breaks (Match of the Day, for example, is a must).

York House Hotel

I’ll keep this brief, but did want to give the Best Western a plug. The first time I went five years ago it seemed a little old and tired, but all those board gamer pounds have been spent wisely and the rooms are now really nice. It’s right on the seafront, has a comfortable bar area and a pretty good breakfast too – there’s even a little pool.

We take over two large conference areas and pretty much need to be served all day, every day (and most of the night) while we’re there. The staff are always polite and pleasant, even when run into the ground, and beyond a few human error mistakes (which we all make) I’ve never had a bad word to say about them. The best I can say is that I genuinely hope we never change venue.

Thursday: Tricks and tables

EntdeckerA late arrival, but some great plays convinced me it had been worth it. Despite having a massive ‘want to play’ list I kicked off with a game of Abyss; a game I had no interest in after reading so-so reports since its release.

It actually turned out to be pretty good, but the gorgeous art and general over production do not turn what would be fairly priced as a £10 card game into a £30 big box game. Pretty fun, but a terrible rip-off.

As the beer started to flow I sat down with Soren, Tom and Karl for what became a back-to back session of Entdecker, two plays of Artus (first basic and then advanced) and a (post Karl) game of ebbes. Entdecker has been on my ‘want to play’ list forever, while the other two I own but don’t play enough.

Entdecker was fantastic. It was doing tile placement four years before the classic Carcassonne and while I can see why it didn’t make a similar sized splash, on this play I enjoyed it more. Like Carcassonne it is light and plays in less than hour, but adds more player interaction – and laughs – because of it. Now a must-buy.

Artus is madness – especially with four. The game looks pretty innocuous, but it only takes a couple of rounds to realise how dastardly it is and you really have to be ready to be screwed over. The basic version is fast and light, but you have no control: the game involves playing a card to move a piece around the edge of a circular board, scoring points for the space you moved the piece from. Your choices are limited as the game goes on, making for some tough decisions.

The advanced version was longer but even nastier, adding some cards which could lose you huge points – but giving you more control, as you place two cards on your turn allowing you to set yourself up for the second card. Getting rid of those nasty cards as early as possible seemed key, as Karl learnt the hard way – losing half his points and going from first to last place in the final turn in the day’s gaming highlight!

Ebbes is an interesting little trick-taker but it was very late and it kind of fizzled out as we did, but it was a nice wind-down at the end of a really fun evening.

5 plays. Game of the day: Entdecker (just beating Artus)

Friday: Booze and baseball

XiaWhat better way to start a gaming day than with a great big space sandbox game? And they don’t come much bigger that Xia.

They also don’t come much stupider than Xia, but it’s a good kind of stupid – the kind of stupid that wears its stupid on is sleeve, loud and proud. The kind of stupid that walks up to you and says ‘Hi, I’m stupid”. The kind of stupid in which rolling 20 on a 20-sided-dice at any point in the game, for any reason, gets you a victory point. Yeah, its that stupid.

But importantly its stupid right off the bat and never lets up. It has the kind of rules where you think, ‘What would I make up if I was 12?’ and that’s what’s in the rulebook. Run out of energy to shoot? Ram them. Need to take a short cut? Roll to see if you blow up in the asteroid belt. Blow up in the asteroid belt? No problem – start from a random respawn point. Roll 20? Have a victory point. Flip a random tile? Have a victory point. Kill your defenceless neighbour? Have a victory point. Dumb, but a lot of fun.

Next I sat down with John B for a game of Baseball Highlights 2045 – a nice little future sport sim based on a light deck-building mechanism. It’s a little clunky in places and you need to take a few leaps of faith in terms of fitting the theme, but I had a good time playing it and its a must buy for sci-fi loving, deck-building baseball fans (just you then John!).

Rich joined us for a game of Viticulture – my third ‘new to me’ game in a row. I did enjoy playing this rather innocuous wine themed worker placement game, but was struck by two thoughts: one, what does it bring to the party? And two, why did I win when I didn’t really play better than the other two? The answer to the second question is the incredibly swingy random cards. The answer to the first question is very little. Pleasant enough though.

After this Karl and I left to meet our better halves and head out for dinner. This turned into three courses with plenty of chat/booze and by the time we got back to the hotel we just crashed out for the night, fat and happy.

3 plays. Game of the day: Xia: Legends of a Drift System

Saturday: Wars and woodworm

MythotopiaThis was a pretty odd day all round, starting with an unlikely random pick up game that tuned into my game of the day.

Vika, simon H, Pouria and me found ourselves standing together in front of the games mountain and for whatever reason Mythotopia ended up on our table. I’d played half a game at Essen and quite enjoyed it, so was more than happy to give it a go.

It’s a clever mix of deck building with an area control war game, taking some other ideas from Martin Wallace games such as not being able to do certain things unless you’re in a winning position at the start of your turn. This works well and, coupled with moulding your strategy with cards you pick up – plus some random victory point conditions in each game – makes for a very good game. I definitely want to play again.

Next Paul A was good enough to teach me my first, and possibly last, Phil Eklund game. The theme of Greenland sounded fun and several friends are really keen on his games, so what could go wrong? A part from terrible graphic design, unbalanced cards, massively swingy luck and players being out of the game by half way. I’m sorry, but this is the worst kind of Ameritrash and no amount of ‘historical simulation’ makes up for a poor design.

We then had games of Royal Palace, Welcome to the Dungeon and Der Dreizehnte Holzwuurm (The 13th Woodworm) – the latter of which is a clever little card game I’ll definitely pick up if I see on sale. Welcome to the Dungeon is vastly improved by the new edition having lots more tiles, but it still got old pretty fast. Royal Palace was fine, but I’m now sure that’s all it’s ever going to be and its on the trade pile.

Ann was also good enough to take some time out to play the prototype I’d brought along with me, helping change a few of the new cards and get me thinking of some new directions for them. But by 10pm I was all gamed out, heading back to our room for Match of the Day and something of an early night.

8 plays. Game of the day: Mythotopia

Sunday: Pillars and prototypes

AfricanaThe day started with two plays of Africana with John B – a game he’d taught me a year earlier that I’d not managed to get out of my mind since.

I wanted to see if Zoe liked it and after one play it got the seal of approval and authorisation to add it to the collection. In fact it was the only game we played together all weekend! Job done.

With Zoe heading home I jumped in on a game of six-player Pillars of the Earth with Sean, Natalie, Ronan, Tom and Paul F-O. I’d played once before, four years ago and sans expansion, but soon got back into the swing of it. Beer started flowing and with it came the swearing; somehow I managed to grab everything Paul (sitting to my left) wanted, but it didn’t help me win (but did wind Paul up, so it was worth it). Sean seemed to win by going in the ‘2VP’ spot every round, but I’m sure he’d tell you different… Another really fun game in great company.

With Sean and Natalie heading home the drinking continued into Elysium (with the addition of Lloyd); a game I played ages ago as a prototype that looks staggeringly good now. It played well and I’m keen to explore it further, but I’m not sure it was the best choice for the moment – which was proved by us having at least as much fun gossiping like girls and drinking more beer in the chip shop. Gee arrived too late to join us, but was eating just in time for us to watch him being attacked by seagulls on the beach while trying to talk to us – definitely the funniest no-gaming moment of my weekend.

Paul A then taught me another game: this time Dual of Ages 2. It was every bit as stupid and swingy as Greenland and was almost as stupid as Xia, but not quite. We only played a little skirmish battle (its a card-based hex battle game) rather than a full scenario, but I saw enough to make me want to play it again properly another time. What’s not to like about a fight where Spartacus, a unicorn and a non-IP infringing Crocodile Dundee took on a hick, a WW2 soldier and some weird little space aliens – and lost?

Paul A then gave me some useful feedback on my prototype (working title: War!Drobe) before Paul F-O and Ronan stepped in to put it through its paces. I can only guess this started at around 10pm, but I know that it was past 2am when we finally finished talking about it – a massive thanks to them both for a valuable evening. Luckily I wrote plenty of notes and also got to play Ronan’s own prototype, which certainly had plenty of potential.

8 plays. Game of the day: Africana (but Pillars of the Earth was funnier)

Monday: Gaming eyes bigger than beery belly

Eastbourne games roomSunday night ended with drunken promises of more cards, more games and more testing. Monday morning started with rough guts, the realisation five ‘full Englishes’ in a row is probably a little calorific, and thoughts of a four to five hour trip home – especially as it was Zoe’s birthday and she’d be home by five. Decision made, I headed for the train.

As always I got home feeling I needed a holiday to get over the weekend, but with some great memories – both gaming and non-gaming related. As I don’t get to London on Board often now, due to rarely needing to be in London, a good half the fun is catching up with old friends; whether that’s over a game, a coffee or a few pints. I expect some people play 20+ games a day while here – I played 24 in total, but didn’t care one bit.

And finally a big ‘thank you’ to organisers Paul, Ronan and Tom (alphabetical chaps, no favourites!); who kept almost entirely below boiling point all weekend (although one particular chat in a chip shop was hilarious) – and to anyone who played with me.

Cheers!

Apology: I didn’t record my games accurately and haven’t included the names of everyone I played with – forgive me if I missed you!

Essen guide: Travel, hotels and Essen Spiel itself

Essen 2015 logoEvery year tens of thousands of gamers descend on the German city of Essen’s huge ‘Messe’ convention centre for its annual celebration of all things board gaming, the Internationale Spieltage – or Essen Spiel to most English speakers.

As the biggest board game convention in the world* people travel from across the globe to visit it – many for the first time. If you’re one of them, especially if travelling from the UK, hopefully this run-down will give you some useful tips.

Go: Travelling to Essen

Essen trainsBy air: Unfortunately Essen doesn’t have an international airport, so unless you intend to fly in by light aircraft you’re going to be looking at arriving in Essen by train.

Düsseldorf International Airport is a 40-minute train ride from Essen, with regular flights arriving from Europe (including Birmingham and Manchester). Cologne is also less than an hour by train, with Dortmund about two hours from Essen.

By rail: Seeing as you’re going to have to get on a train anyway, another solid option (especially from the UK) is to go via Eurostar. Brussels is just over two hours from London Kings Cross, which has occasional direct trains to Essen and a regular service to Cologne (three to four hours more). I personally use the SNCF site to book tickets.

This is now my chosen mode of transport. While five hours on the train sounds like a lot, you need to remember you don’t have to be at the Eurostar terminal as early and there’s no waiting for luggage as you have it with you – and far fewer luggage restrictions. If you have a few going, you can book a table too – and game all the way!

By road: If you intend to pick up so many games that rail or air won’t cut it, or if you simply like driving, jumping in the car is of course an option. You have to be 18 to drive in Germany and (of course) abide by its road regulations but I’m reliably informed that it is an easy country to drive in.

This also then gives you the option to stay a little further from the Messe itself, as well as the option to drive to in each day (perfect for those who drag a pallet truck, with pallet, around all day). Parking (5,000 spaces) is just five minutes from the halls, costs five euros, and you can stay as long as you like (pay in cash as you exit).

Stay: The city and accommodation

It’s fair to say that while Essen isn’t the most appealing city you’ll visit, it’s very welcoming to the annual invasion of the gaming community.

On the plus side the city centre is compact and the railway station is at its heart. It has a good number of shops and restaurants and an inability to speak German isn’t much of a hurdle.

On the downside, it has very little to offer the tourist – this is not a convention I’d suggest bringing a non-gaming spouse to, unless you stay outside of Essen (see below) or book a very good hotel indeed (and they like staying in).

But again on the plus side, one of the main roads joining the town centre to the Messe, Ruttenscheider, is now a real hub of bars, cafes and restaurants. From the trendy to the Irish to the traditional, there’s a bar along here for everyone.

If you are from the UK and staying in Essen itself, its worth popping into the town’s Toys R Us just to get jealous of the kind of things the average German can expect to find in a normal toy shop!

Near the Messe: If you’re just here for the games, have a good budget and get your booking in VERY early indeed, there are several large hotels in close proximity to the Messe itself. You will be a good 30-minute walk from the town centre, but there is a regular metro service (just four stops on the U11) which will get you there in just a few minutes.

The Atlantic Congress Hotel is practically on the Messe’s doorstep, while several others are within a very short walking distance (less than 10 minutes). I’m yet to try any of these, but will be in the Mercure Plaza this year (20 minute walk to the Messe). I love a walk in the morning, and it also makes me think twice about buying more than I can carry!

You can find an Essen Metro map here.

ippCentral Essen: The most common option is to stay in the town centre and travel to the Messe each day via the Metro (about five minutes once you’re on and moving). You can get on the U11 at the central station (Essen Hbf) and get off at Messe West/Sud Gruga.

Walking is another option, taking just over 30 minutes from the central train station – or up to 45 from some central hotels.

Large chain hotels including Ibis, Movenpick and Holiday Inn are all present near the station offering the typical big hotel experience, alongside many smaller, cheaper options.

I’ve enjoyed stays in both the Movenpick and Ibis – you simply know what to expect. But my one experience with a small budget hotel did not end well and I’ll avoid that option in future. Hotel breakfasts tend to be continental and overpriced. There are many bakeries in the town centre and I personally prefer to grab something on my way in to the halls each day.

Further afield: If you travel to Essen by car, or are on a holiday with non-gaming friends or partners, there are cheaper, more picturesque and more interesting locations to stay if you don’t mind travelling in each day. As mentioned above, Cologne and Dusseldorf are both less than an hour from Essen by rail and have much more to offer in terms of tourism.

Play: Essen Spiel itself

Essen balconyEssen Spiel is unlike any other big board game convention. Its all about retail, which means the vast majority of space is dedicated to taking your money, with small bits set aside to let you demo new releases. Don’t expect talks, competitions etc.

On the plus side, this makes it cheap. It’s only a few euros to get in each day, with a discount available for the whole four days – and additional discounts if you can buy in bulk, so its worth getting a group of you together (even if you make friends outside just to get the tickets). I’ll post prices nearer the time.

There is no – I repeat, NO – open gaming areas for you to play inside the Messe. Luckily the local hotels are very amenable to letting gamers use their often vast breakfast areas for gaming. People scuttle home from the Messe with their purchases, hurriedly read the rules over dinner and are in the hotel bars and restaurants playing a while later – and late into the night.

It’s actually a really nice part of the experience, once you get used to it. People are friendly and it’s usually easy to find a game, and I personally enjoy the idea of going shopping in the daytime and then playing my new purchases in the evening. All the big central Essen hotels are very amenable (I’ve played into the small hours at the Ibis, Movenpick and Holiday Inn), as are the smaller ones I’ve popped into to meet friends.

If you have heard talk of 10+ small halls that are a nightmare to navigate, this is in the past (at least for now). Due to refurbishment of the smaller halls, Essen Spiel currently uses the largest four halls in the Messe which makes it much easier to find your way around.

Wednesday to Sunday: When should you go?

  • Thursday and Friday: These are definitely the best days to go if you can travel over to Germany midweek. The halls are quieter, meaning you’ll have a better chance of sitting down at some demos – as well as picking up those hot titles that sell out in the first day or so (it happens every year).
  • Saturday and Sunday: Saturday is the day to avoid if you’re coming for the whole weekend, as people travel in from across Germany and its absolutely manic throughout the day. Sunday morning also tends to be busy, but it thins out a lot in the later afternoon. However don’t expect too many ‘last minute bargain’ rewards for hanging on until the end, as I’ve seen little evidence of it happening.
  • Wednesday: Since 2011 there has been an Essen Warm Up Day organised by Spiele Gilde. It costs 30 euros but is open 10am to 11pm and includes free food and non-alcoholic drinks all day. It’s a great opportunity to extend your stay and get to play some of the new releases a day before heading into Essen Spiel itself, while being easy to get to in the centre of Essen.
    Wednesday is also Essen press conference and manufacturer set-up day, so you’ll find plenty of gaming types in the city on the Wednesday evening – many toting new gaming swag picked up early from the halls. And even if you don’t want to do much after arriving, it’s worth coming on Wednesday just to be able to get into the Messe first thing on Thursday morning.

The new games

Essen is primarily about new releases, but you’d be amazed at how many companies fail to get enough copies to the show.

Much of this is blamed on production issues and shipping, but its not as if those are surprises in the board game industry. Anyway, the point is if you really want something you’re normally best off pre-ordering it.

Depending on the size of the manufacturer, pre-orders may be handled through a prepaid service via their website – or via names written on the back of a cigarette packet after sending the designer an email and keeping your fingers crossed. Either way, the best way to find out about them is directly via the website of each game you’re interested in – or more conveniently through Board Game Geek.

Each year the site runs an amazingly detailed Essen preview page which lists pretty much every game that’s coming out and any appropriate links. This is the 2014 link to give you an idea of what to expect – I’ll try to remember to come back and update it here when the new one lands (or please remind me nearer the time!).

If you are the type who wants to check out every game before you go, another great website is Essen Geek Mini. This takes the Board Game Geek list and lets you rank how interested you are in each game – and then brilliantly plots all the manufacturers onto printable maps, along with your games listed by rank. Geek heaven!

Language dependency can be an issue, as you’ll often find different versions in German and English, but also perhaps French, Polish and others. The biggest issue can be differences in pricing – German editions at the show are often cheaper, so it can be easy to grab one by mistake thinking you’re getting a bargain. And you might think there are thousands of copies of a game at the show – when there may only be a very small number in the language you need.

Another issues is demos – and how difficult they can be to get. While companies such as Days of Wonder have huge stands demoing a single game, many smaller companies – or those releasing multiple titles – have much less room. You may even find just a single demo table for a game you really want to try (or worse none at all).

While some booths will let you book a demo time, many won’t. In these situations you have the choice of waiting for a spot (a bit boring) or hoping for the best (less boring, almost guaranteed to be unproductive in terms of the demo). Your way of dealing with this is up to you – I just want to let you know so you won’t be (as) annoyed and disappointed!

The old games

Manhattan boxWhile Essen is largely about new titles, you’ll find a good number of secondhand games traders in the halls – as well as large sections dedicated to older discounted titles.

These can be brilliant for those of us outside of Germany who only ever see discounts in online stores, and have never seen a living, breathing secondhand board game shop!

But do be on your guard for the obvious pitfalls – the big two being missing pieces (for secondhand) and language dependency. If you’re thinking about picking up some titles, do your research and see if they’re language independent – and if so, whether the rules are freely available to download and print. If so, you’re golden.

You may find staff on the secondhand stands don’t have great language skills beyond German, while there can be a lot of individual games that are hard to sift through – or behind the counter where you can’t get at them. If there are specific titles/editions you’re after, its well worth printing images of the covers and taking them with you – its the simplest way past any language barriers.

I’ve found these stands most useful for older Spiel de Jahres winners, which get massive print runs in Germany when they win the award and many of which are still very popular today. You’ll find piles of old copies of games such as Elfenland, Manhattan, Tikal and Thurn and Taxis for 10-15 euros – all of which are language independent.

And finally… some other stuff

  • As well as board games, one of the halls is dedicated to other geek culture habits including comics (ithe Comic Action convention is included in your ticket), RPGs, miniature gaming, CCGs and even a bit of costume/LARPing. But these are squeezed into one hall and very much a small part of the overall show.
  • The food selection is far from brilliant, especially if you’re a healthy type. You should be able to find a beer, a sausage (apparently the currywurst is particularly good – I’ll report back this year!) or a pretzel – with varying degrees of cheese attached – all of which are actually excellent. But I’d suggest a good healthy breakfast pre-con and a proper meal on the way home!
  • I’d also suggest you bring cash (very few stands will accept cards and there aren’t many cash machines inside) and bring water – as well as wearing comfortable shoes. The convention space is massive, you’ll be on your feet a lot, and it can get pretty hot inside. Water and good shoes are essentials. On the plus side, Essen has great tap water so you’re quite safe filling up your bottle from the tap rather than spending a fortune on bottled water.

What have I missed?!

I want this guide to be as useful as possible, so please comment below or contact me directly if you have anything you think I should add or update. Cheers! (Thanks to Louise McCully and Christian Gienger for their contributions.)

* There are bigger conventions that include some board and card games, but Essen is comfortably the biggest that concentrates almost entirely on the hobby.

My Essen Spiel Wishlist 2014: The follow up

So, it’s time to compare before and after; to look back at my pre-Essen itinerary and see how many of the games I managed to get played – and how they were. Were my pre-Essen instincts sharp, or shambolic?

What did I get played from my pre-Essen ‘top 10’ wishlist?

First to FightBetween Essen and a London on Board trip to Eastbourne a week after my return, I’ve managed to get more than 20 Essen releases played – not bad. And that included seven of my pre-Essen top 10 ‘want to play’ list.

I unfortunately managed to miss out on Red 7 (sold out – but I could’ve got a copy if I’d remembered. Grrrr), Progress: Evolution of Technology (was always packed – want to try it) and Versailles (overheard a rules explanation and watched a bit of play, but wasn’t inspired – I’d still like to get a play).

Johari and El Gaucho featured in my ‘Biggest hits of Essen‘ report – while sadly Imperial Settlers, Amber Route and Madame Ching all featured in the ‘misses’ section of the same post – so I won’t go over that ground again here.

Which leaves two. If I was a lot newer to gaming, or didn’t have many gateway games, I probably would’ve come home with a copy of Mangrovia. It’s a really pretty and well designed light euro game with an interesting turn order/action selection mechanism – but not enough else to make it stand out for more experienced gamers.

But I did pick up First to Fight after a fun demo with one of the design team and one of his friends. My initial concern was, will it work? And if I’m honest after two plays I’m still not 100% sure. But I’ve seen enough so far, and had enough fun, to warrant it having been my one slightly risky buy.

What did I purchase from my ‘will purchase’ list?

Romans Go Home boxI had six games and four expansions on my ‘will purchase’ list, and managed to come home with all but two of them.

Sadly Pocket Imperium didn’t make it to Essen, while I was only going to buy Bakerspeed as a set with Paititi if they had a deal on – which they didn’t, so I stuck with just getting the latter (I’ve downloaded the English rules but not yet played it).

Romans Go Home and Sail to India were games I’d played before and wanted my own copy of. Both came home with me, and both were better than expected for different reasons: Sail to India was free (thanks AEG!), while the new rules and art for Romans Go Home made it even better than the version I’d played previously. Again, Steam Donkey featured in my ‘biggest hits’ post linked above.

The expansions for CV, Can’t Stop, Snowdonia and Stone Age all made it into the suitcase too, but none of them have been played yet – too many hot new releases to get through first! But as they add to four of my favourite games it’s only a matter of time before they hit the table (although I helped test the Snowdonia one, so I’ve played it really).

Did any ‘also rans’ turn out to be winners?

Kembles Cascade boxI mention a raft of other games at the bottom of my Essen preview post, which turned out to be a right mixed bag. Unfortunately I managed to totally miss The Battle at Kemble’s CascadeLeague of Hackers, Ucho Krola and The Golden Ages but had more luck tracking down the rest.

Having had a rules run-through or watched demos of Planes, Essen 2013 the Game and Onward to Venus I didn’t pursue them any further; none of them seemed like my kind of games and with limited time I set my sites elsewhere. I also ignored La Isla as I know several people who bought it; hopefully I’ll get a game in soon.

The big pluses from this list were Deus and Ancient Terrible Things – but without wanting to sound like a broken record,  may I refer the honourable gentlefolk to the ‘core blimey Charlie weren’t they marvellous’ post linked above. The latter I picked up at the show, the former will be mine by Christmas or I may blub like a baby.

Office 21 is actually pretty charming and if I didn’t already have Love Letter in the ‘five minutes of nonsense’ category I’d probably grab a copy. The choices seem a little more involved – you have three cards instead of two, for a start, with no cards that force you to do anything. But at the same time the right move is usually pretty obvious – and games can be brutally, ridiculously short and scripted (but in a funny way).

Castles of Mad King Ludwig boxWhich just leaves The Castles of Mad King Ludwig – the game I’ve been most on the fence about from this year’s crop of releases.

One thing’s for certain – it’s a good game. The rules are simple, the puzzley aspects engaging and it seems well balanced. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, has plenty of variety and keeps you guessing to the end. And I won my first play – and I’d play again. So why don’t I like it?

Personally, my problem with Ludwig lies in the one interactive element of the game. If you’re start player (which changes clockwise each turn), you get to draw some random tiles and place them in an order of your choosing – going up gradually in cost, with you getting all the profit from the round when other player’s buy things.

It’s important to say here that the game needs this kind of element – otherwise it would be a totally heads-down solo experience. However, the final result just doesn’t work for me. First, I didn’t enjoy making these decisions when they came to me. Second, I felt that poor decisions by other players probably led to my victory – putting tiles in cheap spots that gave me easy points. This didn’t feel satisfying, but is certainly a personal opinion – many enjoyed it and I’d certainly recommend people to play it and make their own minds up.

Essen Spiel 2014: My 10 biggest hits (and misses)

spiel-14It’s three weeks today since I played my first demo game at Essen Spiel 2014. Since then I’ve been to Edinburgh, been to Eastbourne, been to bed with the flu, and been maniacally trying to remember what I do for living after three weeks off work. Hence a lack of content about Essen. Sorry.

So to get the ball rolling again I present, in no particular order, a pithy report on the 10 games from this year’s fare that had the biggest impact on me – both positively and negatively. Longer reviews to come on the good ones once I’ve had a few more plays.

Hits

Deus boxDeus was everything I’d hoped it would be; a tableau building euro game with plenty of room for clever combos that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Some will say its a little too puzzley and heads-down, but while there’s not a lot of interaction you do need to be careful of both players’ board positions and how their tableaus are set up in terms of ending the game (a little like Race for the Galaxy and a player’s 12th card).

El Gaucho is a very pretty board, dice and tile game game that is, at its heart, a rummy variant with a few bells and whistles. I think the bling is leaving some a little disappointed at its lack of depth, but that’s looking for complexity where none was intended. Taken as a simple set collection game, embellished with actions to mitigate bad rolls, it’s a nice quick gateway game that plays in an hour.

Ancient Terrible Things takes the basic Yahtzee idea and throws in a comic book Cthulhu theme and special items/tokens, making a one-hour push-your-luck dice fest I’ve found thoroughly enjoyable so far. It’s definitely over produced, and maybe too expensive for the depth in the box, but with a nice amount of variety in the box and an expansion on the way I think there should b more than enough here to keep me entertained.

Johari is another one-hour set collection game, this time sticking to cards but keeping action selection and adding a few special powers – plus a strong turn order mechanism that really drives the game. The jewel trader theme is a bit done to death right now, but don’t let that put you off; this is a clever little brain burner that’s deceptively tricky to get right – especially with the pesky inspector having away with your fake gems.

Steam Donkey is a small box card game from the ever so slightly bonkers Ragnar Brothers. The thin theme sees you building a Victorian seaside resort (including Eastbourne) steam punk style… The basics see you spending cards to lay other cards into your tableau to score points, with the ‘advanced’ game adding some interesting player powers and interaction into the mix. Daft but clever with a unique theme.

Misses

Imperial Settlers boxImperial Settlers should’ve been another Deus. Tableau building, resource manipulation, a bit of player interaction – right up my street. And it seemed that way, until about half way through when the gaping holes started to appear. Overpowered cards you may or may not see but that will win or lose you the game; plus repetitive actions to nowhere that got boring even before the end of our first play. A terrible waste of a good idea.

Madame Ching also started promisingly; a clever card game with interesting decisions to make about how to score your points (quick risky and often, or slow and more measured). But once we started to see some of the ‘special’ cards come into play it soon became clear they were totally unbalanced and game breaking. This kind of chaos works in some games but is totally out of place here, where planning should be key but can be destroyed by blind luck.

Amber Route was probably the most beautiful game at Essen. The art is incredible, the bling off the chart (real amber pieces, anyone?) and the race idea on a constructable board  good one. In fact I had to play two disappointing demo games just to make sure I didn’t want it. Why? Because it was ridiculously easy, making everything you did seem pointless. Again, what made it more disappointing was how close it was to being cool.

Murano is a beautiful island just outside Venice. Murano the game is the driest of dry euros which started to feel old during the rules explanation and outstayed its welcome soon afterwards. an hour or so later it was over; I don’t even remember who won (it might have actually been me). Maybe I’m just done with this kind of game, but I found it totally cold and heartless. Some enjoyed it a bit, but average at the very best.

Grog Island has been chosen to represent all the games at Essen this year (and there were many) that added one interesting mechanism to the cannon – then forgot to do anything interesting with it. The idea of a bidding mechanism using different coloured dice rolled each round is ingenious; making the boring resulting marker placement/secret scoring cards game even more disappointing. Hopefully this mechanism will be back.

Essen Spiel wishlist 2014: My board and card game top 10

spiel-14With Essen Spiel 2014 just a week away, I thought it was time to boil my wishlist down to a Top 10 games of interest – or games I’m hoping to demo/play in Germany with a view to purchasing. But before that, here’s what I will be purchasing if available:

  • Steam Donkey: A card game about building a Victorian seaside resort – steam punk style. How can I possibly resist?
  • Bakerspeed and Paititi: This year’s offerings from the Austrian Board Game Museum; cheap prices and a good cause equals no-brainer.
  • Romans go Home, Sail to India and Pocket Imperium: All relatively cheap games I’ve played before and really enjoyed.
  • Expansions for CV, Can’t Stop, Snowdonia and Stone Age: All current favourites of mine where a bit of extra variety can’t hurt.

First to FightBeyond these, it was a small task of whittling the other 500 games being released this year (yes, 500) down to 10. Did I read about each and every one of them? No. I’d say I’m not that sad but in truth, given unlimited time, I probably would’ve done. However instead I whittled many away using the following criteria:

  • Any mention of: dexterity, party, children, trivia, real-time, humour: I know I know, I’m absolutely NO fun.
  • Games that don’t play two-player, or that go more than two hours: I like a lot of these games, and seek to play them, but the ones I own sit largely unplayed on my shelves.
  • Abstract, anime, horror/zombie, war games: These are usually a big turn off for me, with the occasional exception – so if a classic rises to the top I’ll look into it, but won’t seek them out as new releases.
  • Games with an Essen listed price of 50+ euros: Yup, I’m tight as well as absolutely no fun. Why are you still reading this?

That left me with 100 or so games, but many more fell by the wayside after watching videos or reading rules, as they brought nothing new to the party. It’s a sad truth that, right now, it’s so easy to publish board games everyone seems to be doing it (even me). It doesn’t push the bar up – it just puts loads more games into the middle ground.

The 10 games I most want to play at Essen

  1. MangroviaMangrovia (€30): This family game looks lovely and has an interesting action choice mechanism, plus a good price. I have high hope for it from the rules, but do want to see it in action.
  2. Red 7 (€10): This looks like a great light filler and at this price it’s an almost definite purchase. It has a really clever mechanism, where you have to take the lead to stay in the round on every turn.
  3. Progress: Evolution of Technology (€35): A hand management card game which is all about building tech trees – something I’ve always loved in both board and computer games. Some doubts raised about replayability.
  4. First to Fight (€37): The Puerto Rico action selection mechanism is one I like; and this adds an interesting scoring mechanism where you’re all using the same cards to try and fulfil missions. But will it work? Could go either way.
  5. Imperial Settlers (€40): Great art, tableau building and a little bit of messing with other players puts this high on my want to try list – but it’s essentially a card game in a big box with a big price tag.
  6. El Gaucho (€27): Worker placement and set collection, dice and tiles, nice components and art style, reasonable price – many boxes ticked. But there are a lot of euros out there – will this stand out enough?
  7. Amber RouteMadame Ching (€30): This looks an interesting mix of styles, but essentially it’s a 30 euro card game which seems a bit steep for the level of gameplay involved. But if it’s fun enough, it may be worth it.
  8. Amber Route (€tbc): While I’ve enjoyed the app on iOS it is much too luck dependent; but the board game version looks to have made significant changes.
  9. Johari (€25): A low price, set collection and simultaneous action selection pushed this way up my wishlist; but I’m not sure it’s going to be that interesting to actually play – hence needing a demo.
  10. Versailles (€30): Yet another interesting looking family level worker placement game, but with the usual caveats – will it be interesting enough to stand out from the crowd? I have my doubts.

More details of all of these can be found on my Essen Geek List over at Board Game Geek. While I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic Essen Geek Mini tool that helped me plough through all of this year’s releases.

Just behind those were: Deus, Planes, Essen 2013 the Game, The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade, Office 21 and League of Hackers. And then there was Ancient Terrible Things, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Onward to Venus, The Golden Ages, La Isla, Ucho Krola

It’s going to be a long week!

It’s soooo good: ‘Backroads’ by Lonely the Brave

League of Extraordinary BloggersSorry, bit late on this one but it proved trickier than I’d though. A week ago I simply said to myself right, the next time I think, “That is soooo good”, I’ll write about it. But that hasn’t happened until today – hence the delay.

I’ve not had a crappy week. In fact it was pretty busy; trips to London and Brighton, a one day music festival, gaming with friends. And while I saw some great bands, played some great games, saw some cool things, nothing really got the goose bumps going.

But today I wake up with a song in my head. I get up to start work, fire up YouTube and put it on. The song feels pretty old to me as they’ve been going a few years, but it’s only really getting out there now as the band’s album has finally been released after delays.

They seem to have recorded a video to it back in June, which has added even more poignancy to an already remarkable tune. I just sat back, watched it, then watched it again. And again. I thought, blimey, this is soooo good. So here it is – enjoy. Then enjoy it again, louder. You’re welcome.

 

Saw things that the rat saw
And my eyes couldn’t take them in
Just want to fall here silently
Into the arms of people I love
Under waiting stars as the ships come rolling in

But look at the way the faces turn
Eyes burn why (eyes burn why)
If you be the sky then I’ll be the bird
But look at the way the faces turn
Eyes burn why (eyes burn why)
If you be the sky then I’ll be the bird

So the power lines were leaning
And all was lost
Make a vow with the city lights
With your fingers crossed
You said I’d be a place and time
Said I’d be a man
Making eyes with a sea of lies
So you understand
That you’re raping on my dreaming
And you’re ruining my best made plans

The rat he turned and bared his teeth at you
The wake is calling, what you gonna do?
But your head’s gone
And it won’t be long
The rat he turned and bared his teeth at you
The wake is calling, what you gonna do?
But your head’s gone
And it won’t be long

So the sinners stopped and the villains turned
And I’ll be the sky and you be the bird
Let’s meet the mountains and see what they heard
And I’ll be the sky and you be the bird

And I’ll be the sky and you be the bird (x4)

Other soooo good offerings from the league:

Gearing up for Essen Spiel 2014

spiel-14Essen Spiel is just a month away. It’s the biggest event on the European board gaming calendar and arguably the most important gaming event in the world – so what makes it such a big deal?

Size isn’t everything, but 58,000 square feet of exhibition space across five halls – and over four days – can’t be ignored (that’s the size of Earls Court One and Two put together). And neither can the fact 500+ new games are released here every year; far eclipsing even the big US conventions. In worldwide terms, this is the big one.

Essen is also tied in with both the best board game magazine available (Spielbox, printed in English and German) and the industry’s most prestigious awards, the Spiel des Jahres. Winning the SdJ can add millions to sales and has helped games such as Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride cross into mainstream stores.

It differs from many typical conventions in that it’s pretty much solely about retail – but at the same time isn’t about the hard sell. You go, play and buy games, then leave as if you were at a shopping centre. Then thousands of gamers meet up in the evening to play their new games; but in hotels, apartments and bars – not the venue itself.

It is also very cheap – from memory, last year it was about 20 euros for the full four days. for that you get 800 exhibitors from 41 nations; 850 new releases and world premiers; tonnes of competitions and exclusives. But it’s not for the faint of heart – be prepared to share the space with 150,000 other gamers.

for me this year it may be extra exciting. My first game design, Empire Engine, is being published by AEG and should hopefully make its début at Essen. While it may end up being a small fish in a very big pond there is currently a pretty nice buzz about it despite a low key build up, so fingers crossed!

If you’re into your board games, you owe it to yourself to go to Essen at least once. Tickets for the show are sold on the door and while hotel space is probably thin on the ground now, you’ll certainly be able to find something. It is easily accessible by flying into Dusseldorf or Dortmund, or train via Brussels and Cologne. See you there…