From tomorrow Thursday 23rd until Sunday 26th you can find Matrix Games' Marc von Martial and me at the Spiel Games convention in Essen, Germany demonstrating various Matrix games.
Spiel game convention, Essen, Germany, November 23rd – November 26th
As mentioned above Matrix Games was present with a portable on which customers could try-out all their games or even take a sneak-peek at the upcoming Battles from the Bulge game from Panther Games. The number of visitors to the convention is not available yet, but I’ve got the distinct impression it was less than last year’s 140K. The current economic upheaval keeping some folks at home ? Or just the fact that last year’s convention was during a school holiday, while this one wasn’t ?
A convention is always a good place to re-meet some people and this year was no different with Mike_GER from The Wargamer forums showing up and checking out the latest games, Charles Foster Kane and lurker “Karl” from Usenet’s war-historical doing the same and showing a keen interest in how Battles from the Bulge is coming along. Nearly there guys – as you can attest.
Then there’s people I met before at previous conventions but didn’t get a chance to have an in-depth talk with before who turned out to be quiet fascinating. There’s Frank who runs the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek (Market-Garden) and Harald Topf who helped with the German translation of Panther Games’ 1988 Fire-Brigade wargame on the Amiga. We’re now two decades later and he’s a (board)game publisher himself who gave me a couple of his games as freebees just because I kinda know this O’Connor guy :)
Of course there are also Twilight Zone moments as in that guy who came up to me and asked : “Do you have wargames which run on Unix ?” - I said “No, but some of them will work in Wine ….” At which point he starts to sing the praise of the Unix faith and why everyone should convert to it. Nice guy, but not running on all cylinders. Adamantly refused to install Wine as he doesn’t like Windows programs and wants native Unix wargames. Yeah, right. I told him this wasn’t going to happen and that he could wait until Doomsday, but he wouldn’t listen. Saw him again a couple of times in the next couple of days as he kept hovering around us as a moth attracted to pc wargames, but too afraid to come near the Microsoft flame.
What about the games ? As predicted Panzer Gener^H^H^H I mean Commander : Europe at War proved again to be the most popular game there with the more casual game crowd you find in Essen – we sold out on it on Friday – even the ones in damaged boxes found a new owner given a 5 euro discount. Empires in Arms, Gary Grigsby’s World at War, Close Combat and John Tiller’s Campaign Series were also in demand. A lot of Matrix business cards were handed out as well to people who wanted to check the online prices first or prefered the download version. One thing you also need to know : this is not a regular wargame convention where most people have at least heard of Matrix before, 2 out of every 3 guys we talked to in Essen haven’t. They have usually played Panzer General or Close Combat or TOAW before but as wargames have disappeared from the retail shelves they have lost touch with the hobby. A lot of them were very pleased that there are still real wargames being made for the computer – it’s this crowd which really needs us being there.
Ok, so how about the cool non-computer stuff ? Phalanx games was there with a presentation of their new Campaigns of Napoleon boardgame – large isomorphic hex-boards, splendid looking figs, ASL style scenario cards. Looked absolutely astonishing - if they can produce that for a decent price they’ve got a real winner on their hands there – should see the light of day in March next year. Also, China is out to conquer the games world – well, at least the production part of it – and was there with a booth to promote the printing and manufacturing of everything game-related in the PRC. I’ve heard all the horror stories of Chinese printers before, but these guys looked a bit more professional – their brochure too. As I had heard some good things about Conflict of Heroes I decided to check that one out too, but came away a bit disappointed. Game-play wise it’s probably ok, but the maps are way too dark and the images on the counters are somehow not sharp enough. RPG’s seem as strong as ever, especially those set in a medieval setting and it looks like everyone wants to buy medieval chain-mail and swords. The guys from the computer RPG “Drakensang” based on the German hit pen&paper RPG game “The Black Eye” were there with an impressive booth with even more impressive screens showing off their game. As we were just sitting there with a 17 inch widescreen portable I sorta envied these guys a bit :) – there were also some Dutch guys which what looked like a really interesting mix of a wargame with a commerce/trading game. I was in a hurry and moved on without taking a note of the name, nor of the hall I was in and although I tried, I was unable to find them again to have a second look. Spiel is pretty big. All in all not many surprises and this year’s loot just contained a pristine, unpunched, 2nd edition version of Jedko’s The African Campaign, which most people regard as a kind of advanced Avalon Hill’s Afrika Korps, for a mere 20 euros.
Friday night has become the traditional having-a-bit-too-much-to-drink night as Marc von Martial and me teamed up once again with a bunch of Swedes : Game designer / rockstar / guru Anders Fager, Mikael from Gaims Publishing and Frederik, game-junkie. The bar we ended up in can only be described as being “too German”. What I mean is that if you saw it in a movie, you’d think the director went overboard in trying to get all the clichés in there. Everybody was smoking – and I mean everybody as even the non-smokers were gulping in large quantities of smoke with every breath they took - the wooden log on which you play a drinking game revolving around clobbering in a nail with the reverse side of a hammer (Anders Fager was really freaked by this display of half-drunken men wielding a steel object 3 feet from where he was sitting), the lonely women who were attracted to all those husky Swedes (Anders Fager thought this was pretty normal) and a full-figured barmaid who needed no prompting at all to replace the empty glasses with full ones. A great night with great laughs once again .. I think .. because the recollection is a bit hazy :)
Pictures will be available in a day or so – stay tuned.