Spieltage in Essen is a very big deal for people in the hobby gaming world, players, vendors and publishers flock there every year for the 4 day games festival.
Getting to Spiel’ isn’t a big deal for most mainland dwelling Europeans, they just get the right train and away they go, but when you’re travelling from the westernmost countries it requires some advance planning.
I’ve travelled over there a few times now with a group and thought I should create a quick travel guide to Spiel.
We start early, flights are cheaper, most hotels still have room and we have time to get the finances together.
We began planning our last trip about 8 months in advance, we were being a bit enthusiastic at that point, 6 months ahead is reasonable, and you’ll only start hitting real problems at the 3 months mark.
It is definitely better to be part of a group, the rail service has discount tickets for groups of five and Spiel’ itself has discounts for groups of 10.
Planning goes beyond flights and hotels however, Spiel’ is HUGE! 48,000 square meters of stalls and stands being visited by an average 150,000 people means it can be an issue to navigate, especially if you are after something that is going to be launched there.
If it’s a popular product there is a high probability it will go out of stock fast so getting to the vendors stall early is a must.
Pro-tip: Some publishers will offer a pre-order facility for Essen which will mean you won’t have to panic about them. Check them out well in advance.
We go with a list of vendors, floor plans for each hall with stall numbers and a plan for which stalls we hit first.
Making a list of high priority targets and the order in which you want to hit them is a very good plan.
Dusseldorf airport is the most convenient; from there it’s a short hop on the Sky train (fare is covered as part of your air fare) to a proper rail station and then a reasonably short trip to Essen HBF.
Pro-Tip: HBF designates the central Train station for that place (i.e. Essen HBF = Essen Central)
Be aware of the weight limits on your airline and how they are calculated, on our last trip we booked an extra bag only to discover on the way back it didn’t actually increase the amount of weight we were allowed to carry. That was 20kg per person in this particular case.
German customs are meticulous by the way; the metal detectors will pick up something as small as a 1 cent coin, be sure you have obeyed all the instructions as it can take a while to get through if you set something off.
The boarding area in Dusseldorf has a fairly reasonably priced (for an airport) set of shops, restaurants and bars.
Tobacco junkies will be pleased to know it has an indoor smoking area as well, so at least you’ll be warm while giving yourself cancer.
Hotels close to the venue are very expensive but the underground system is superb, a journey from 4 or 5 stages away is still short and painless. We usually get somewhere reasonable around that distance away.
I won’t tell you here we stay because if I do and it gets booked out before we can reserve our rooms I’ll be beaten with a stick. Literally.
Check out their websites for pictures of the rooms as quality varies wildly and see if there’s a place you can sit and play games together, kind of necessary for this type of trip.
The subway stations usually have a bunch of take away food places in them so grabbing breakfast on the go is quite cheap if the hotel price looks steep.
The light rail stations near Essen Events Place are all marked as Messe, Messe Ost, Gruga etc and you’ll usually disembark next to one of the entrances. The active entrance can change so be sure to check where it is before you go; it can save you a bit of a walk. An all day travel ticket is your best bet €5:60 and it will cover you for travel around the city if you decide to go exploring or get lost.
Pro-Tip: If you get lost wandering the city, keep an eye out for a rail station, they all have fairly detailed maps on display and it should be simple enough to find your way from there. Also you can usually cut from one side of a busy road junction to another via an underground station
Tickets are sold through electronic vending machines, just click on the flag of the language you want to transact business in and you should be able to work it out from there.
The timetables are slightly different to standard Irish and UK ones, instead of being grouped by destination the tables are arranged by times, so the 17:00 table will display which trains are leaving for where between then and 18:00. Sounds odd but it is very easy to use in practice. The train to the airport will have a little plane symbol on it too.
The ticket system is a bit odd if you’re used to the Irish/UK style of trains, there is a little box on that you put your ticket into and it punches it for you. You should do that before you get on the train, inspectors, in the rare instance one appears, will be checking your tickets are punched and problems they aren’t.
With the all day and group tickets you need only punch it once, on the day of purchase. Sometimes you can punch them on the train, but usually the box is beside the ticket machine
Taxis are reasonably priced too (by Irish standards anyway) and your hotel will most likely be able to book them for you if you want.
Pro-Tip: WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. You are going to do a lot of walking and queuing, uncomfortable footwear will soon start to cause problems both physically and mentally.
Getting there on opening morning is fun, thousands of people trying to squish into carriages designed for a 100 or so, don’t worry if you don’t get on the first one that comes, relax; there’ll be another one along shortly. Just try to get to the spot nearest to where a door will open. A mini game in itself for the experienced traveller
The venue is designed for these types of events and even on the opening morning with thousands of people queuing up we still get through in less than 20 minutes.
You can tickets for single or multiple days, there is also a ticket for the whole four days up to you to do the maths on that as the price may be different next year.
Once you’re through the tickets, if you are with a group arrange a rendezvous place and time. You will get separated and it best to have a plan in place. If you are leaving the venue for lunch pick a place close to the exit you’ll be using.
When leaving the venue for a short time, be sure to get a bracelet from the people on the door, this will allow you to skip past the ticket queues but you will have to present your ticket again at the hall proper.
Some stalls will supply bags, some will not, you’re better off bringing your own just in case, some people will actually bring trolleys along; someone hauling a few crates of newly purchased games along with them is not an unusual sight.
This year there was also a left luggage facility, which costs the princely sum €1.50, very handy if you don’t fancy lugging your copy of Whacky Wit around all day (A wooden version of Pac Man that weighs 8kg!).
Especially handy if you want to do one last trawl before going to the airport
Not all people speak English there; some of them don’t even speak German! It is usually cool; you may have to wait until a crew member who can understand you is available however.
The place you can run into a real language barrier is in game demonstrations; a lot of the bigger publishers will conduct their game demonstrations through English as a matter of course but some of the smaller ones may not be able to or only have the one person available.
If your Germans not up to learning a game through it make sure they know that before you sit down at the table, if they can accommodate you they usually will. If they can’t, be gracious about it, it is a German fair after all; expecting everyone to speak a foreign language is a bit silly.
Pro-tip: Don’t think nationality can be defined by accents; people tend to pick up the accent of whoever teaches them the language. Most people who sound American there are actually German!
There are stalls scattered throughout, if you keep an eye out passing through the passages from one hall to the next you may even find a beer garden! Follow your nose! You can get decent snacks inside however; a giant German sausage in a bun goes for €3 from some of the many stalls scattered around the venue and will keep you going till lunch.
If you want to go somewhere slightly less crowded and pricey for lunch I can recommend Fritz Patricks Irish Bar, http://www.fritzpatricks.com/es/essen.html , it’s about 10 minutes walk from the venue. The Schnitzel is good and the Guinness is tolerable, which more than can be said for Guinness in most other places on the mainland.
I wouldn’t however recommend it for dinner, if you are going to venture out for a proper dinner with your group and you like your meat then Pfefferkorn http://essen.pfefferkorn-restaurants.de/ is the place for you! Meatgasm became a proper word as far as I was concerned after eating there.
It’s very popular so you do need to book well in advance. Price wise it worked out at around €40 each all told, totally worth it.
Hopefully this advice will help make your visit to Spiel even more enjoyable than visiting what is essentially the biggest game shop in the world would normally be.