Board game publishers left “scratching their heads” after surprise Essen Spiel changes

The organisers of Essen Spiel, the world’s biggest board game fair, have made the surprise move of bringing forward sweeping changes to how the event’s halls are structured – leaving some publishers worrying attendees will find it harder to discover their games.

Spiel, which had close to 150,000 visitors last year, sprawls across six massive halls for four days at the Messe Essen exhibition centre in Germany each October.

Navigating the cavernous event has always been a challenge for visitors, and Spiel has recently been saying it wanted to make changes to help them find booths more quickly – with a redesign beginning in Hall 6 planned for this year.

But Spiel now says it will be remodelling all six halls at this October’s event instead, splitting the fair into separate segments for children’s, family and light-to-medium games, expert games, tabletop and miniature games, roleplaying games and trading card games.

A statement from the organisers said, “Our goal is to create the optimal trade show experience for everyone.

“Of course, we don’t assign the booths on a whim. We consult with the exhibitors, take a look at their assortment and, as a team, are familiar with many games ourselves.

“Through this combination of feedback and experience, we build the halls in such a way that everyone at SPIEL Essen 23 feels comfortable, can find their way around easily and can enjoy their favorite hobby.”

But some publishers contacted by BoardGameWire expressed their surprise that the changes were being made for this year’s Spiel, as the organisers usually begin meeting with publishers in January to discussing any upcoming alterations to the event.

Italy’s Ares Games publishes heavy wargame War of the Ring, miniatures aerial combat game Wings of Glory, midweight wargame Quartermaster General and party game Ensemble among its broad array of games.

Roberto Di Miglio, director of marketing, production and R&D at Ares, said, “I think this approach is quite debatable as most medium-sized companies have a catalogue covering multiple categories.

“While certainly the growth of the show through the last years created some halls which were probably confusing for the visitors – ‘you are new, we place you in Hall 4’.

“I think this reorganization could have been done in a slower and more organic way – especially considering this is the first year under new management, and booth allocation is already weeks behind to what it was in the past.”

German publisher Spielworxx publishers heavyweight games such as John Company, but also more middleweight titles such as Magnate: The First City and Uwe Rosenberg’s Oranienburger Kanal.

Spielworxx founder Uli Blennemann told BoardGameWire, “I scratched my head when I got the news from Essen/Spiel.

“Right now, I simply do not know how this will affect Spielworxx. It may be a change for the better – on Saturday and Sunday afternoon we have [family type gamers] at the booth just looking for a chair to sit down. They are clearly not interested in the games we’re offering.

“However, I think on the whole this is not a good change. The hall for ‘expert games’ might not be entered by people just looking for something different or trying to spot a ‘surprise’. In addition, while we have mainly expert games we also have somewhat lighter stuff.

“I’m not convinced this is an improvement. Spiel needs to improve in different regards – mainly offering open gaming space – I wonder why this big change has been chosen?

He added, “Essen is a fair, not a convention. But I think it is important to give attendees an ‘experience’ these days, not only games to purchase.”

IELLO managing director Patrice Boulet said his company was still in discussions with the Spiel organizers to find out where they can set up their booth for 2023.

The company published family-weight titles such as King of Tokyo and Potion Explosion, midweight offerings including The Lost Ruins of Arnak and heavier titles such as Deal with the Devil and Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.

Boulet said, “Obviously, we can’t fit every publisher into a single box. In the case of IELLO, our products are aimed at the very young – the LOKI range starts at two years old – then at the family, and finally at expert players.

“I’m not criticizing the desire to redesign the halls by theme: there will certainly be some positive things (especially for visitors), and some less positive things that will be corrected over the years.”

Pegasus Spiele public relations manager Peter Berneiser said, “As one of the largest game publishers in Germany, we have such a wide range of products as almost no other publisher. Children’s games, family games, connoisseur games, expert games, role-playing games.

“Gamers know that we stand for a great variety and will visit our booth regardless of the positioning.

“Otherwise, the positioning in the connoisseur games hall is a good compromise in the middle of the complexity of games.”

Scott Morris, chief sales and marketing officer at Lucky Duck Games (Flamecraft, It’s A Wonderful World, Senjutsu: Battle for Japan) was also more positive about the changes.

He said, “I think the team that manages Essen does an amazing job, and if this is their current effort, I’m sure it’s for a good reason. 

“Of course it could be challenging for a company, like ours and many others, that have many offerings for family gamers and strategy gamers, however with challenges come new opportunities as well.

“I don’t foresee companies needing to have multiple booths in different halls, but I could see why one would do that.  We are planning on only one booth, and will continue with that plan.

“Overall, companies who have developed a strong brand and strong connection to their communities, will be ok with this change. Having a strong community presence with your players means they will be able to find you as you’ll be in constant communication with them, and they’ll seek out your brand.

“The challenge then is bringing new customers to your location – which honestly, is always the challenge we should be striving to meet.

“As long as you know the layout, it can be focused on positively and I’m confident many companies will adjust accordingly.

“Essen is a wonderful show with many opportunities and I’m excited to see how this change impacts the consumers at the show; including the opportunities it offers them to discover new publishers, new games, and new communities, and overall, make our hobby even more fun.”

Essen Spiel runs between October 5 and 8 this year.


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