Essen part 1, the first...

I have never been to a convention the size of Essen, which I am lead to believe is top of its class for hugeness and hustle and bustle, so I admit to a large portion of trouser filling anxiety and nerves… on top of this, and to compact the sphincter squeaking clench muscle, I was assisting my friends at 2d6EE games… me, demoing games to Joe Public, no less.


  1. 2d6EE Games,
  2. Emmerse Studio
  3. Blue Donut sdtudios
  4. Stuff By Bez
  5. Ragnar Brothers
  6. Dark Gate Games
  7. Chance Encounters
  8. Monkey Shine Games
  9. Brekkie and Tea (and the age old art of dunking pastries)


1) 2d6EE Games

My gracious hosts most kindly asked me to join them for Essen 2018, as an exhibitor, which meant I got access to the con that as press, I would not normally experience. so I really got to see behind the scenes as it were, and also got some time to see stands before the massing crowds were granted entrance.

 A few last minute set up details and we’re ready for off.. you will, I am sure, notice I was much more a spectator at this point of the show, rather than a full hands on sort of chap… but it element of a convention is actually such an eye opener… a little witness insight to the preparation and logistics that goes on behind even the smaller stands of Hall five.


…and we’re under starter’s orders! The gates open and the masses spill in through every orifice.

My view from the office

I knew Essen was much more about shifting units, rather than the demonstration of games, or the sharing of knowledge, but I was not prepared for some of the ludicrous sights I encountered. People were actually sprinting from hall to hall… like gaming was going out of fashion. Some sported bags of the like I have never before seen. I kid you not, some people were hauling heavy-duty shopping bags that were nearly two metres tall. What kind of money do these people have? My whole collection would struggle to fill one bag… so the notion of spending huge wodges of the green stuff to fill one of these monsters simply made my brain explode.

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Mrs A either thinks I am an incompetent buffoon (judging by the expression on her face), or hates being photographed and thinks I am an idiot, incompetent buffoon for trying to capture her working!

The stand was regularly inundated by interested parties, and I plunged forth into the never before explored world of game demoing. It became quite hectic at times and I felt like I was going from one demo to another, back to back. I think I managed a string of ten successive games in just one sitting. greatly rewarding but bloody knackering and the toll it takes on the old vocal chords goes without saying. The occasional restorative coffee from my hosts and litres of bottle water helped smooth the way.

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Aigar and Inga, my wonderful Estonian hosts, are obviously enjoying the show or do they merely find English Reviewers mildly amusing oafs!

Death on The Rails: #2std…of Red Russian Rifles and Estonian Rail Titles (Death on the Rails)

Lembitu: #8cs…St George’s Knights and Estonian Plights (Lembitu)

Aigar on the development of solo variants for his games in A Guest Knows Best:

#14gkb…of Solo Mining Dwarves and Solitary Block Wars (Aigar Alaveer)



I do feel sorry for many small, independent publishers and designers because the exorbitant fee that has to be dished out is by no way proportional to that expended by the ‘big names’, and all to get the all important exposure. Sadly I don’t see this translating into instant sales which must be vastly frustrating to have to expend so much time and capital to improve viability, with only the hope it traversed into sales further down the line. But maybe this is a debate for another time.

During the week I did get some free time (although I did feel guilty leaving my post as I felt I should be earning my keep… It turned out the 2d6EE team didn’t expect me to do much in the way of helping on the stand, but I felt a sense of obligation and a personal want to get involved to help repay their generosity)


Out and About

During my travels I managed to look at a few games and get some discussion with designers about their solo variants (mentions for those I visited in part 2 link), but, and this is my main grievance with Essen from a reviewer’s perspective, because there is such a onus on sales, pre-doors opening everyone is mad-busy setting up and stacking shelves… and once the punters are swarming, the stands are so busy that I only managed to chat to a small percentage of the stand owners as I would have liked.


In one such out and about trip, I dropped in on Mythic Games, and although I have not even played one of their games, such as the intriguing Solomon Kane & Joan of Arc , let alone review one, Az always gives me a warm welcome and takes time out of a very busy schedule to chat. This is something that I really appreciate and wish more publishers did…taking the time to build relationships with punters.

This leads me on pt a  small observation, and not a criticism of any non-UK designers/publishers, but it was predominantly the UK companies that took time out to chat to me and talk about their games (Tompet Games, Vesuvius Media, Dark Gate Games, Monkey Shine Games and Tin Hat Games being the non-English exception…actually that is quite a few…maybe I should amend my comment to include the many small indie design houses)


2) Emmerse Studio:


The remarkably talented and extraordinarily driven, Emma, and the fantastic Quirk! in its numerous guises, hard at work. I managed to drop by for a chat or two on my travels, but sadly never made it for a demo game… Related image

…all this time and I have yet to have a game… I will eventually get round to playing, honest. Airecon, Harrogate, North Yorkshire (March 8-10) is my next appearance, so I shall be definitely looking for a game or two.

3) Blue Donut Studios

Next to Emma’s stand were the Blue Donut Studios and their Immortal Paths game. I was invited to try it out (a non-solo game…my head felt a little woozy and I almost passed out at the experience) It was actually a nice little game, not brain melting but some interesting choices to make in a race from side to side… I felt a little bad as my first ever game saw me beat one of the creators… but I guess that is poetic justice for making a solo player delve into the competitive world of head to head, multiplayer games. I don’t know if it is available as a purchase, but their huge neoprene play mat was excellent. It is doubtful the decision making (knowing which bridge to place each step of the way) could be replicated for an AI opponent, but if ever such a thing emerges, I would be rather interested. A very nice and very friendly team at Blue Donut…

…is it a donut or a meringue?

…no, your not wrong, it is a donut!

My bestest gag, told in my bestest Scottish accent!


4) Stuff By Bez:

20181025_124332Bez has a a distinct presence at cons and it is always a pleasure to drop by for a chat… sadly at Essen, the small free time I had available for general wandering found Bez’s stand ridiculously busy. Great for product recognition but not so great for catching up and a chin wag.

I was fortunate enough to be given a deck of the Wibbell++ cards at last year’s UKGE and have subsequently put the deck to use on the many solo variants Bez has concocted. I actually find this fascinating because, with the exception of digitised gaming, there is not a whole lot of word games we soloists can get our teeth into (there is even a competitive, simultaneous solo variant)


Wibbell++ the many solo variants: #13solo…of Solitary Superlatives and Singular Suggestives (Wibbell)


5) Ragnar Brothers:

I have a real soft spot for the Ragnar Brother team for two main reasons, Principally due to their extraordinary pleasant, welcoming and friendly nature, I have always enjoyed spending time on their stand, chatting about game and way beyond. As mad luck would hve it they were pretty much next door so I was able to catch up and chat on a daily basis. The other reason is that they make some bloody amazing games. There is a distinct feel and look to all their titles of which I now have Darien Apocalypse (looooooooove it), Nina & Pinta (suuuuuper game), Backpacks & Blisters (a sedate solo game but full of childhood memories from fell walking in the Lake District as a young child and a teen… actually, as an adult too, come to think of it) and Barking up the Wrong Tree (a silly little game but with a fan made solo variant by the great Ricky Royal of Box of Delights fame)… I also got to play a copy of the new Romans (although my prototype is a little less pretty than the production copy…but this is a pretty cool game, indeed).



So, for me it is the perfect combination of care with creating a product and the way fans, customers and the like are welcomed into the world of Ragnar. It is a shame that The Romans is going to be their last game. I will be so sad to see an absence of them at future cons and wish more publisher/designers had as good a presence/ethos about them as the Ragnar Brothers do.

I can’t find all my Essen photos… this is the only one relating to the Ragnar Brothers I can find… sorry chaps!


Darien Apocalypse:#13…of Scottish Trade Ships & Quantum Apocalypse (Darien Apocalypse)

The Romans (prototype/playtesting): …of Roman Legions and Native Regions (The Romans)


6) Dark Gate Games: 

I had a totally unplanned visit at the Dark Gate stand as I was making my through the ever massing throng, on my way from the 2d6EE stand to hall 2… Dark Gate were literally around the corner from me. As I passed I came to an immediate halt, strangely drawn to an interesting set-up of two miniature boardgames, and thought I’d take a nosy, like one does on such occasions. A tall chap, sporting a bald head and facial hair  (some two or three metres greater in height than my good, short self) approached me, asking if I was interested in the game. A few choice questions of my own creation on how the cooperative game played for soloist and I soon received the full works from Philippo Chirico… game explanation, mechanics, art, sculpting of the miniatures. the full kit and kaboodle… then thrust into my grubby mits, a gigantic box was forced.


The Order of Vampire Hunters was duly brought back to the UK and played and played and played. As a campaign game with miniatures, I am not always taken with such topics, but having seen this in action from the top chap, I was very keen on getting this title to the table. It has a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic feel to me, and such a great game to play… so I feel very lucky to have been given such an opportunity… curses! No spoiler alert for the review!

Order of Vampire Hunters: #21…of Bloodsucking Neck-biters and Disgusting Vampire Blighters (Order of Vampire Hunters)

7) Chance Encounters:

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Wandering round the expo and one can bump into the most unlikely of folks…


and in one particular case it was a literal bump… wandering around in my usual inattentive daze, I collided with an unfortunate soul… as it happens it turned out to be Sarah Kennington from One Free Elephant. A brief chat and we were both on our way… only to re-bump into each other later in the show… funny old place!

Another really pleasing meet was with the Detmer’s, I have had the occasional exchange about boardgame ‘stuff’ on social media, but a tiny logo or badge or photo gives no clue as to the real people… and chatting to Emily and Jon, I discovered just what fantastic, warm, friendly folk they are. It was a pleasure to meet them.


8) Monkey Shine Games:

I have to mention Monkey Shine Games because we have exchanged numerous tweets and, although they have not a solo variant within their catalogue, I have been interested in their Kickstarter builder… so we messaged further  to arrange to meet up for a chat, only to discover we were merely two stands apart. This only goes to show how busy a convention can get… and only goes to prove what an unobservant buffoon I really am!


20181028_172317There is something new in the works too, which may or may not have some form of AI solo-ish element (my wishful thinking) that is something akin to a card driven Pirate ship race…I may be selling this poorly so huge apologies, but I thought it actually looked really cool, with some great looking components. Our conversation did stray from the game to the fantastic laser cut tables, made especially for the show… and the ensuing logistical frustrations of moving quality artwork etched into crappy laminated chipboard tables.

This is one thing about shows… it is really great to finally get to meet designers, publishers and fellow boardgame enthusiasts in the flesh… to put a disgusting mug to an otherwise hidden digital presence.


9) Brekkie and Tea:


The first evening after the show saw my hosts take me to a local McDonald’s… and as a life long hater of all things Maccy D’s, I was surprised to find they did salads…

20181026_080254I was also surprised to find that the German food outlet was so ridiculously clean that I was forced to rush outside and check the nameplate… the lack of grease on the tables, lack of rubbish  bestrewn all over the floors and a lack of spotty teenagers fucking and blinding all over the place (as is customary in the UK) made me think, at first, that I may be in some other form of fast food outlet. Breakfasts proved to be the highlight of the day each and every day… and I was never disappointing by the array and quality of pastries and cakes on offer at the coffee shops, to take away the taste of their decidedly average German coffee. And so a precedent was established in the form of delightful morning pastries to take away the taste of the coffee… and a lowly Englishman trying to re-educate an Estonian or two in the culinary skills and delights of dunking croissants and similar pastries into the thick, brown liquid masquerading as coffee… how very continental of me, and how very unsuccessful I was at changing stubborn female minds about such habits. I think Aigar was warming to the idea, but I always saw him as a more progressive sort of chap.

Just touching on the topic of food… tea posed a linguistic nightmare from time to time.

Let us, for the briefest of moments, imagine a scenario… an English buffoon capable of speaking some English and a smattering of French but knows two things about German (nothing and bugger all). Add to the mix a couple of Estonians with Goodish Estonian and slightly better grasp of English than I, but only one with the vaguest notion of German. All protagonists are set and ready… and hungry. Now place these hungry gamers in a German Chinese takeaway and we have something akin to one memorable tea time… or dinner. as the posher element might refer to it. Chinese dishes are not always clear without pictorial reference, what ever the language. The eatery we chose had nothing of the kind, which left us all high and dry.

The only redeeming feature was a slightly dodgy collection of cartoon illustrations to indicate which meat might appear in the list of dishes. What freaked me out more than the incomprehensible menu was the establishment’s decor.

Holy crap, was it scary…

20181026_201946.jpg… and by the look of my hosts, they were not full of the whimsical joys of boardgame convention fever.



Part 2:…of Pizza and Dragons (Essen the second next bit)


Something For The Weekend, Sir?