Essen Spiel celebrates record post-Covid attendance with 193,000 visitors

Essen Spiel, the world’s biggest board game fair, has celebrated its 40th anniversary with a record post-Covid attendance of 193,000 – up more than 30% compared to its 2022 event.

Organiser Merz Verlag has billed this year’s four-day game fair, which ended yesterday, as its biggest ever, having increased the footprint of the event to about 62,500 sq m – a gargantuan area which would cover more than 11 American football fields.

The visitor numbers were about 7.5% below Essen Spiel’s record turnout of 209,000 recorded in 2019, a year before the fair took an enforced break due to the coronavirus crisis – replaced in 2020 by an online-only Spiel.Digital event.

Numbers were heavily subdued in the return of the live event the following year amid the global Covid recovery, with 93,600 attendees the lowest turnout for the fair in over a decade.

That number had recovered to 147,000 by the 2022 event, and new managing director Carol Rapp told BoardGameWire earlier this year she hoped the attendance could reach 180,000 for the 2023 show.

The impressive increase underscores something of a return to normality for major board game events following Covid-19, with new record attendances being set at both the UK Games Expo and Gen Con this year.

Organiser Merz Verlag described this year’s fair as the perfect start for its new management team, led by former Asmodee and Kosmos senior marketing executive Rapp.

Rapp only joined the Spiel team in November last year, and quickly found herself in charge of managing this year’s event after Dominique Metzler – central to organising the fair across its 40 years – announced in January that she was retiring.

Rapp said, “We had hoped that more people would come to Spiel than last year, but we didn’t expect this number.

“It was wonderful to feel so much joy in the halls, at the game tables, in the aisles and among the exhibitors.

“We changed a lot of things this year to make Spiel even more accessible and appealing, and the number of visitors on all days, as well as the general feedback, shows us that we’ve done it.”

Key among those changes was the decision to remodel all six halls of its halls, 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, with a mix of small, medium and large booths in each zone.

Spiel hoped the new hall concept, coupled with much wider aisles, would help to better distribute the crowds in the halls, and make it easier to find smaller booths of lesser-known exhibitors.

BoardGameWire reported in June that the decision had not gone down universally well with all of the exhibitors, but the general response from booth organisers during the four-day event seemed to suggest business had gone well.

Andreas Finkernagel, managing director of Dorfromantik publisher Pegasus Spiele, said, “Our stand was really well attended on all four days. The game tables were almost always completely occupied.

“We had significantly more sales at the fair than in previous years. Although the individual receipt was somewhat lower, we had many more customers at our cash register.”

Essen Spiel came under fire just ahead of opening its doors last week, after admitting using controversial AI-generated art on its tickets, posters and app for this year’s event.

A spokesperson for Merz Verlag told BoardGameWire it was experimenting with AI “to comprehend its benefits but also its limits”, adding that “the protection of artists rights has priority for us”.

The company has since said the decision to use AI art would be evaluated “in detail” after the show, and is yet to give a view on whether AI art would be considered for next year’s Spiel.

Essen Spiel 2024 is set to take place between October 3 and October 6.

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