ProFantasy PosterSo, “Spiel”, you ask, how is it, the biggest games fair in the world? It’s big: more than 150,000 visitors, 828 exhibitors from 39 countries (numbers from 2013), 4 days of gaming madness. You’ll also notice that I’m not using “convention” to describe Spiel, since it differs from events like GenCon or Dragonmeet, in that playing games itself is not the primary focus. Sure, a lot of gaming does happen, but the main activity is presenting, selling and buying games.

The BoothI’ve been working the ProFantasy booth at Spiel since 2000, first helping out, and then from 2002, running it. Its four days from Thursday to Sunday alway go by in a whizz and whir of activity. ProFantasy usually has a booth in the “Role-playing and Import Games” hall, which in recent years also holds a lot of LARP supplies and miniature games. Boardgaming is a much more mainstream activity in Germany than in other countries, and accordingly many visitors to Spiel are families and “casual” gamers.

Explaining CC3Role-playing is much smaller segment of that hobby, and our hall attracts only part of the great Spiel crowd. You notice that in the differences between the weekdays and the weekend. On Thursday on Friday, the hall is much quieter and we have time for detailed chats with individual customers, but on the weekend the aisles are sometimes thronged with people just glancing at the booths and pushing through. The other halls are often dominated by the large publisher’s enormous exhibits where they present the newest releases. But there are also a lot of retailer booths and smaller publishers tucked away between the large booths and in the corners.

The ThrongIf you want to visit Spiel and have a good chance to play some nice boardgames, come early. The seating for demo games is limited and it can be hard to find an open spot for the more popular games. Coming on Thursday or Friday also helps, as the halls are less busy. On the other hand if you come to buy games the Sunday is the best for you can sometimes find a good deal as the merchants are eager to get rid of their stock. But beware, the most sought after releases tend to sell out quickly on the earlier days.

[Photography by Gordon Gurray]


Oh, and one thing is very different from conventions in the US like GenCon. We have beer booths in the hall!
Beer at Spiel

Now that I’m safely back home, had a good night’s sleep (or two) and have sorted out all the boxes and stuff I brought back, I’m happy to report that it was another good year for ProFantasy at SPIEL. Games were played (few by me), fun was had (lots by me) and software was sold (by my stalwart helpers Gordon and Michael was well as me).

Spiel remains the huge affair that is has been with well over a 100,000 visitors (if not beyond 150,000). I’m sure they be announcing a new visitor record shortly. I get to see the usual mix of familiar faces and new people. It’s fun to hear “I wish this had been around when I was a GM!” from 30ish people. I can heartily assure them that our software WAS around when they were GMing.

We keep getting very good feedback from people using the software. One customer specifically congratulated us on the “excellent work with Symbol Set 3″. I am happy that the Annual Vol 5 was very popular (we almost sold out). Having a Jon Roberts Style map on the wall was one of the major drawing points and quite a few people took an Annual Vol 5 together with their CC3 purchase. Interestingly the popularity of DD3 and CD3 switched from last year, where City Designer was more popular. This time it was Dungeon Designer – perhaps in part because I had the big “Tendrils Oak Inn” poster not back on the wall, but lying on the table as a main display.

Map DisplayWe did sell some fewer core programs this year, but made up for it with more add-ons. Dioramas was more popular than usual, which have to do with me having the Dungeon Diorama from the January Annual on the table. SS3 Modern didn’t do quite as well as I had hoped because interest in modern settings seemed generally lower (fewer Shadowrun players than usual). In contrast, we did get several inquiries about Steampunk artwork – a genre that is apparently still on the rise. Some customers purchased the new Tome, but generally customer at the booth prefer a hard copy to a download only which I can’t put into their hands immediately (same as the current Annual subscription). Both are much more popular in our web store in comparison. We sold two of our posters (the Kuslik city and the Tendril’s Oak Inn) on Sunday to a very keen customer (he kept coming back and asking me for my display posters).

Demoing was mostly confined to CC3, DD3 and CD3 (more DD3 interest this time), with some Fractal Terrains, Dioramas and Cosmographer thrown in. While I switched to the Annual styles (e.g. the Jon Roberts style) a few times for demoing, the CC3 default Structures catalog is always good for a “Wow, that is VERY nice!” comment.

RaumschiffI was especially impressed with a perhaps 6 years old boy who created the map on the right. I demoed Cosmo 3 for his (much) older brother and he insisted on giving it a try as well. I gave him some pointers for the first few steps, then left him alone for 10 minutes or so. When I came back he had created this. I didn’t touch CC3 myself for this at all, except for exporting the map.

Overall I still think that the rpg part of Essen is slowly shrinking. The rpg hall (Hall 6) was definitely a bit smaller than last year (again), although most of that seemed to have been due to less LARP booths – the usual suspects of German rpg publishers and vendors were still there. Miniatures are also still strong, but a lot of “utility stuff” is creeping in, like card protectors for magic cards, carrying cases for miniatures and so on. Sunday had some rather quiet stretches, and the last hour before closing time is slow every day. I’d prefer a closing time of 6pm instead of 7pm (like at GenCon).

This year – due to it being school holidays – general attendance was high throughout, with a significant drop only in Sunday. Saturday of course remains the busiest day. This mostly affects the larger boardgame halls. While it was busier on Saturday in our hall too, we never had the kind of press that you get in the bigger halls. There are rumors that at least some of the halls will be torn down and rebuilt over the winter, but I’m not sure how much truth there is to this. It would certainly be nice for Hall 6, as it is getting a bit scruffy – and it is also rather dark compared to the other halls. And it would certainly benefit from easier access. Currently you have to walk quite a long way from the main entrance to get to the rpg hall.

I had Gordon at the booth to help me from Thursday to Saturday and Michael on Saturday and Sunday (giving me two helpers for the busiest day). They were invaluable as always. Apart from some strange problem of my usual adhesives not working on the booth walls anymore, setup and take down was smooth as always. If the Autobahn hadn’t been closed on my way home I’d have been home early.

I’m looking forward to next year’s SPIEL. See you there, boardgamers of the world.

It’s time again for the world largest boardgame fair in Essen, Germany. This Thursday Spiel’12 opens its halls – and ProFantasy will be there.

See us in Hall 6, booth 6-711. Stop by to say hi, chat, get a CC3 demo, check out our new releases (Symbol Set 3 – Modern v3, Tome of Ultimate Mapping v3) and get a preview of the upcoming Perspectives 3 and Character Artist 3 artwork. See you there!