5 Reasons Why Every Board Game Designer Should Attend Spiel Essen
To be honest, I am a board game outsider.
I have not heard of Board Game Geek or Spiel Essen until a year ago. I have played my share of board and card games but never really dwell too much on the design and development process of game design. All I had was a wonderful idea for a board game, tested the idea with some friends and went ahead to publish the game thinking that I have done my best and came up with a brilliant product.
My best is apparently not enough when the standard of board game design is so much higher internationally than what it is like locally.
Setting up a booth and showcasing our game at the biggest board game convention in the world has accelerated my growth as a game designer faster than any other means I have tried so far and I believe that every aspiring board game designer should attend Spiel Essen, even if it is just for exposure. Nevermind, that there is no government grant (Singaporean entrepreneurs are very dependent on government support) and that you have to spend a bomb on renting the booth, marketing collateral, shipping, air tickets and accommodation, the experience you gain is ten times more valuable than the money spent.
After my baptism of fire via Spiel Essen, let me share with my fellow game designers, who may be reluctant to set up a booth due to the cost involved, on the 5 reasons why they should showcase their games Spiel Essen:
1. Validation of your game concept and mechanics
When Wongamania was first published, we received overwhelming positive response from our consumer base in South East Asia. "Innovative", "Fantastic" and "Engaging" are some of the words that are used to describe our game. Thinking that we had a great product at hand, we approached some of the prominent board game reviewers in US and Europe. However, the feedback we had received from them were less than positive. At that time, we were puzzled by the difference in the responses and came to the conclusion that low conflict and highly strategic Euro style games are what the Western gamers prefer. Wongamania has an extremely high dose of conflict and cutthroat competition. I was mentally prepared to be criticized and slammed at Spiel Essen, which has one of the biggest gathering of Euro style fans in the world.
Surprisingly, I was astounded to hear numerous positive feedback from the brave European players who tried our game, despite warnings of "vicious" and "cutthroat" before even they started playing. Maybe they were too nice to be critical of the game and made comments such as "something very different", "nice mechanics!". When probed further on whether the game is too vicious, they commented that "slightly too much" and "toning it down just a little will be nice". We even have players who came back on the 2nd and 3rd day just to explore the game further and I had a good time discussing some of the the ideas that they have on how to improve the game.
It seems like that there is still a huge fan base for high conflict and cutthroat games in Europe as long as it is prescribed in the right amount.
With so much feedback now from both our local Asian supporters and the game enthusiasts at Spiel, we are able to get a better feel of the game play which can appeal to both our local and international market and this puts us in a better position improve on the game-play of our next game.
2. Exchanging of Manufacturing and Design Tips with fellow Designers
When we first started with developing and manufacturing Wongamania limited edition, we knew nobody and nobody knew us. Everything was tough, from looking for an artist, to figuring out which kind of cardboard to use out of hundreds of variations which our clueless manufacturer was also unable to advise us. Getting in touch with designers who have published their games was a joy. My operation director, Sam was in cloud 9 as he went round booth to booth discussing about operations and manufacturing problems and how to resolve them, whenever he got some spare time. He gained so much from this trip that he no longer nags about the entire exhibition cost of Spiel Essen.
3. Socialize with Distributors, Publishers and Reviewers all over the world
As a first timer to Spiel Essen, we did not know about the various social and networking events before, during and after the show. We only started to realize that we missed out on some of those events when we saw crowds of people, hanging around some of the bigger publisher's booth, sipping beer. The crowd at Spiel Essen also kept the 3 of us fully occupied that we barely had any time to wonder around to network with many other publishers. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find quite a number distributors, publishers and reviewers actually came by and tried out our unknown game published by an unknown publisher. Many of them also took time to give quite a lot of feedback on how we can improve on the various aspects of the game despite their tight schedule having the need to play hundreds of games out there. Hundred kudos to you guys!
4. Saying "Hi" to fellow countrymen
Being the only Singaporean publisher showcasing their product at Spiel Essen this year, we have Singaporeans, Malaysians and a couple of ASEAN friends swinging by to say 'Hi' to us. Some of them traveled far just for Spiel Essen, while many of them are working or permanently residing in surrounding countries. We bitched about the cold, the shopping and the lack of spicy stuff in Europe. They also shared more in depth into the culture of gaming in Europe which proved to be quite insightful.
5. Earn Money!
Spiel Essen is a convention which draws approximately 150,000 people each year. We nearly sold out the stock we brought, even for an unknown game like Wongamania. We were pleasantly surprised at how many sets we managed to sell even though we came to Spiel Essen for the purpose of getting the feel of the European markets.
We had so much fun at Spiel Essen this year that we promised other designers and publishers that we will be back again the next year. We aim to keep that promise! We also hope that come next year, Singapore will be able to form a coalition, like those from Japan, Korea and Taiwan and bring the Singaporean gaming experience, to Europe.