Is Essen Worth It?

Essen - Hall 3

Essen Spiel, the largest boardgame convention in the world, takes place in less than two weeks. Making the trip to Germany though, depending on where you live, can be a significant undertaking, both in terms of time and money.

There is no other convention quite like Essen, whether you’re talking about size or flavour (it feels quite different from other conventions). You can also buy games significantly cheaper than you can even from online retailers.

Is it worth it though? If you’ve never been before and you’re trying to decide if you should go, that’s what we’re looking at today. Let’s break it down…

Obviously you might be willing to pay a significant amount for a fabulous holiday, so assessing value in those terms is quite subjective, but let’s just address the issue of cost initially.

Be under no illusion, if you’re travelling to Essen from outside Europe, it’s expensive. Between the flights, accommodation and food, you really need to see it as a holiday since any savings you make on cheap games will pale in comparison to the overall cost.

However, if you are travelling within Europe, it needn’t be too expensive… unless you’re flying. Flights aren’t especially cheap, but luggage space is probably your main issue if you’re intending to buy a lot of games. You either end up paying a lot for extra luggage or find yourself very limited in the number of games you can buy.

If you’re driving, that’s a different matter. If you stay at an Airbnb and self-cater rather than eating out, you can do Essen very cheaply. Bring a couple of friends to share petrol costs, fill up on games and you can totally get great value from the trip. You do need to buy a lot of games though!

Essen - Hall 6

A couple of things to bear in mind: make sure the Airbnb has free parking available and access to a kitchen so you can prepare your own food. You also need to book early (at least 6 months in advance) or all the cheap places will have gone.

There’s one more very serious caveat with Airbnb places: they can cancel on you with very little warning. If they decide to cancel your accommodation a week before the convention starts (it happens!), you’re going to find it very difficult to find an alternative at anywhere close to your original price.

You will also find significantly cheaper places over the Essen weekend if you’re willing to travel in and out of Essen each day from one of the neighbouring cities. The train system around the area is very good once you get the hang of it. It obviously adds to your travel time though.

Let’s say cost isn’t your primary driver however. You fancy seeing Germany, you’re happy paying for flights and accommodation and you just want to know if you’ll enjoy the actual convention.

Let me be clear on this point: Essen isn’t for everyone. If you’re going to Essen, it needs to be for the games. For many people, a convention is partly about looking at new games and buying a few, but partly about spending lots of time actually playing games and making friends in the open gaming area. That doesn’t really exist at Essen.

Essen Aisles

Essen is hall after hall of stands. However, unlike many other conventions, a large number of the stands have demo areas. If you want to sit down and try out lots of new games, Essen is the perfect place to do that.

Be aware that the more popular games will have significant wait times to try them out. If you’re not too fussy though, you can spend the entire four days playing game after game and still feel you’ve barely scratched the surface. Essen is huge.

And that’s another factor you ought to bear in mind. Essen can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it. A combination of very large high-ceiling halls and vast crowds of people thronging said halls, and you can end up with a bizarre sense of both agoraphobia and claustrophobia all at once.

Having said all that, I love it! While I love the open gaming sessions at other conventions, it’s great (once a year) to go on a new gaming binge and play everything you rest your eyes on. “Oh, that looks interesting – let’s play it!”

If you’ve been before, is there anything else you think people should be aware of before going for the first time?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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