Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 After Essen Party

The Essen SPIEL convention 2011 has come and gone, and so has the Spielwiese's After Essen Party.  I've added photos of this year's festivities to the After Essen page.

Serving up Dice Cakes to commemorate the last 5 years of gaming and After Essen Parties at the Spielwiese!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


After a brief 3-hour train ride Wednesday evening, I finally found myself in an Essen guest apartment, anxiously awaiting my first SPIEL fair. My housemates were fellow Berliner and game designer Günter Cornett (Hey, That's My Fish!), designer Stefan Risthaus (Monuments, Level X, Ostia) and his family, and a friendly group of Gamers from Bremen (and fellow Berlin designer Peer Sylvester (Singapore, King of Siam) would join us Friday night). I could hardly sleep, but went to bed so that I could awake in time to make it to the convention center early enough to utilize my 1-hour early pass.

Thursday: Initiation
Thursday morning after the traditional German breakfast of coffee with fresh rolls from the corner bakery, I marched around the convention halls to get an overview of the different booths, which were still being hurriedly set up (and many games were just arriving or on their way). Sheets of cardboard were being punched and games were being set up on tables, while others were stacking boxes and marking prices. When the crowds were allowed in at 10:00, however, all eyes focused on the potential customers and the marathon demoing sessions began.
I said quick hello’s to Cwali’s Corne van Morsel, Bernd Eisenstein at his Irongames booth, and Günter at his Bambus booth. Then I met Michael from the Spielwiese and he gave me a tour of the facility, showing me where the different publishers were located. I made all my new-game purchases based on rules and previews I’d read: Eclipse, which I had pre-ordered (although I honestly don’t know when I will have time to study the rules and get such an involved game to the table), Walnut Grove (a worker-placement tile-laying game with a Little House on the Prairie theme, and I still think they should have included a Laura Ingles vs. Nelly Olsen direct conflict expansion giveaway), Friday (a solo game that couldn’t fit the theme better), The City (Race for the Galaxy for families—I’m in), Ruhm um Rom (a German version of Glory to Rome, as I finally had to see what all the hubbub is about), and the Japanese game Master Merchant (as I wanted to have at least one independent game that would not be available anywhere else, and Dale’s description sounded intriguing). There were many more games in which I was interested, but most of them were by Berlin designers and mainstream German companies and would be easy for me to get later (Hawaii, Singapore, and Frigiti, for example).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Essen Schedule

I'm in the midst of last-minute preparations to attend my first-ever SPIELmesse in Essen. I am looking forward to meeting more of the international gaming community there, and finally experiencing the excitement of the convention live and in person.  I had been excited about the planned release of two of my biggest and most complex games to date, but as often happens in this business, both were postponed until 2012.  The sudden announcement of the release of my card game, Pala, helped to diminish this disappointment, but it now appears that any copies that make it to the show will be incomplete.

Although these events could be discouraging, I'm looking at the bright side and am thankful for the freedom I have to spend time with gamers, designers, and publishers from around the world.  Although I have a few appointments with publishers to talk about prototypes and future releases, I will be free from demoing my games continuously (although I will be demoing for friend Bernd Eisenstein's games for a bit).

If you are planning to attend SPIEL this week and you see me there, please don't be shy and introduce yourself.  Following is a rough schedule of my week:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lecturing @ Berlin's Technical University

“You were predestined for this, Jeff,” Hartmut wrote in a reply to an email sent out to several Berlin game designers.  It was a request from Berlin’s Technical University.  Their first-year architecture students were beginning the semester with a project on board game design, and they were looking for a game designer to give a lecture on the subject.  The faculty had contacted the Spieleautorenzunft (Game Designer’s Association) which, in turn, forwarded the request to me and the other Berlin members of the organization.  The problem was that the semester would begin the same week as the Essen SPIEL game fair, which all of us were attending.  “They are not flexible in the date of the lecture,” the email read.  But , thanks to Hartmut’s comment, I decided to see if I could convince them otherwise.  After all, who would be better to lecture to architecture students about game design than a former architect who was now a game designer? After writing to the faculty, they agreed and postponed the lecture to the week after Essen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Prototype2Publisher: PALA

Preparing the Canvas
Back in 2005, I was still working my way through the vast archive of classic German boardgames. At the same time, I was refining my own ideas so that I would finally feel confident enough to bring them to my Monday night gaming group—one that included several established designers as well as others who soon would be.

I had learned German back in the mid 90's when I had first moved to Berlin, but entering into the world of game design felt like language learning all over again.  And although it was important for me to master the grammar of game mechanics, it was the theme of each game idea that inspired me the most, in the same way that the content of poetry moves me more than rhyme or meter.  Or the way that, as an architect, I was much more interested in the spaces and forms created and the concepts communicated than the structural calculations (that is why we have structural engineers, after all).

In any case, I was on the hunt for themes I had not yet seen, confident that new and interesting mechanics would automatically follow.  One of those early designs was about ticket scalping, and it turned into the published game, Circus Maximus, released in 2008.  Another dealt with one of my favorite pastimes of that period: painting.

POSTCARD FROM BERLIN: Where Designs are Discovered

Editor's note:  this was originally published in July, 2006 on

October is a magic month for those in the board game scene.  The SPIEL convention has become such a big event for designers and publishers—as well as a sort of pilgrimage for gamers—that the Mecca of board gaming conventions is referred to simply by its location: Essen.  But there is another meeting in Germany that does not receive as much coverage outside the Fatherland.  It’s the Essen before Essen—the annual Game Designer’s Convention that shows a glimpse into the future of German board gaming.  And like Essen, it has become so big that it, too, is referred to only by the name of the city hosting the event:  Göttingen.

Showing games to publishers at my table in Göttingen.