The city of Essen : beyond the Spiel Messe

I loved Essen. No, I don’t mean the Spiel Messe, I mean the city of Essen.

In France, most people don’t know much about this city, except board games players who know it as “the city hosting the Spiel Messe”. I guess this is probably wrong as the city hosts a lot of events in the Messe hall, so a lot of passionnate people must know various events in Essen – but I’ve hardly heard anything about the city unrelated to the Messe. This is really a shame, because the city actually has its share of interest.

This article isn’t connected to board games at all, but I felt like sharing something a little bit different.

Zollverein coal mine industry complex

The area of Essen is well known for being a former gigantic industrial area, where pretty much everything in the country was produced. The best example of this fact is the Zollverein coal mine complex. Way up in the north of the city lays this huge area of coal treatement, abandoned some decades ago but being well upkept. It’s now an UNESCO site and hosts several museums and sweet expositions, as well as large areas sometimes used by artists or party people. A big chunk of it is now a natural park with its own biome.

I took quite a few pictures, so allow me th share the experience with you…

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2h “LOL” techno parties in a Goethe Bunker

…this may need an explaination.

In the southern part of the city, there’s an old bunker. Instead of being destroyed, it was converted into a party place with a lot of techno events. Thus, it was logically renamed the Goethebunker (you know : poetry… techno…), and sometimes they hold 2 hours techno parties from 10pm to 12pm, so people can be efficient at work the day after.



Makes sense, right ?

Therefore, I went to one of these parties, and it was actually really fun and worth it. It also seems that Essen has a great underground techno scene, which was obviously something I didn’t know so well.


Unperfekthaus, the place where I should’ve done workshops

I’m really happy to know that this kind of place exists for my next time in Essen. Unperfekthaus is a place with… stuff. A lot of artists have their workshops there and rent it to be able to sell their crafts. You can visit the workplaces and often watch the artists work. You can also come here and enjoy the “Sofa internet” space, or maybe take part in a free workshop given by various kind of people. Or you can just come in to have a drink with the free-soda-machine.

It is very hard to describe proprely this place without any pictures, but I didn’t have my camera. Still, if you pop in Essen and are interested in… pretty much anything, be sure to take a look at the Unperfekthaus.


Lichtwochen, a light festival

For some unknown reason, each year in Essen takes place a big light festival dedicated to a country of the European Union. I believe this year is dedicated to Belgium. Last year was Sweden.


Also, the area is really big, with several cities around such as Bochum, Duisburg, Dusseldorf… and the cities are so close, you can actually reach them with the S-Bahn in a matter of minutes. So if Essen is not enough for you, chances are that there might be something going on in the neighbour cities.


Feel free to keep that in mind next time you’re heading to Essen for the Spiel Messe 😉

Workshops in the Spiel Messe : how did it work ?

I will leave Germany tomorrow after almost 3 weeks spent in the country. The first thing to notice is that I’ve drastically improved my German language skills : I’m now able to buy bread AND understand how much it costs, which is a feat I’m pretty sure my German school teachers would be pretty impressed of considering my skills back then. Also, please take notice that “Schmetterling” is actually quite a nice word to say when you don’t try to imitate some atrocious German-speaking Austrian dictator that I will never mention again in this blog.

But let’s come back to Ludi Vojago. I spent some days in Erlangen then in München where I did a single workshop, due to a mixture of bad preparation, failure to find some structures in the city from one day to the following day… but most importantly, I wanted to prepare some last things for the Spiel Messe in Essen. So you could say I “sacrificed” Munich for Essen !


Organizing the fair with no ressources

It was quite challenging to set up a stand with almost nothing. I’m just travelling with a few used board games, my Mechanicards, some material from Tout pour le jeu… as much as I could carry with my trusty bags.

Problem is, a stand needs tables & chairs. Hopefully, Olivier, a friend from Besancon, managed to bring me 2 tables & 5 chairs. I planned to do workshops with 8 people, so I also managed to borrow 2 extra chairs from a Couchsurfer who hosted me on monday & tuesday (thank you so much, Christoph !).

I also had no decoration, and no time nor money to make/buy anything decent, mostly in this fair full of fancy stuff. Hopefully, my workshops are using cardboard & thick pencils and there were plenty of free cardboard here and there due to shops unpacking their games, so I took a pile and created something.

At the end, my stand was… scrappy and random, but still up to the task ! I was ready… but not really for what would come.

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The failure

The plan was to organize quick board game prototyping workshops. 2h per workshop, everything free, I bring the material and I guide people so they can create a little prototype.

Let me get this straight : I did a smashing total of zero workshops.

There’s no point lying here. The goal of this blog is not to tell you guys how awesome and successful this project is : the goal is to tell you how this workshop project goes, whether it’s a success or a failure.

I had great expectations from the Messe. Despite being my first time in this humongous fair, I felt like a lot of people here would be interested in creating games. Actually, I still believe it is the case. However, I see 3 main reasons in this disaster :

1) The stand was unclear and in the dreadful hall 4

As you have seen, my booth was not really appealing. Nobody said it, but I think I saw some “wtf 😀 !?” expressions in the eyes of various people passing by, which is unsurprising. It was really difficult to explain what the hell was going on just by looking at the stand, and only brave or curious people could know more by asking me directly. Many had to choose between spending some time in warm and friendly stands with plenty of games and carpets on one side, and a dull, cardboard made shady stand in another side. It makes sense.

Plus, I was located in the Hall 4. This hall was open for the first time this year (the Messe usually takes the halls 1, 2, 3 and Gallerie), was after the Gallerie and not many people knew about it, plus most of the exhibitors here were indie creators, small publishers and weird conceptual stands. In addition, several exhibitors moved from this hall to another during the exhibition to save themselves from this unfriendly place, so the more time passed, the more sinister the place looked.

I really hope that next year, the Spiele Messe organizers would actually brand it as the “indie hall” to at least bring some people interested by new and fresh experiences.

2) Nobody knew about those workshops

This is an even bigger issue. Obviously, in a fair where Reiner Knizia was presenting his new games, where Asmodee had a stand of the size of the whole Hall 4, where the illustrator of Ticket to ride was signing copies, nobody knew much about Aurelien Lefrancois, perfectly unknown designer going for an uncommon project.

Also, the workshops were absolutely not mentionned in any program except the one for exhibitors (which made no sense), so I had to manage to bring people by myself & via my stand (see issue 1) ).

Plus, I must admit I should’ve put more effort in online communication before hand via Trictrac or Board games geek, but I hardly found the time to do this. Meh.

3) People are not here for that

Perhaps the main reason is here.


The Spiel Messe is a place with a ton of new games, as well as free games to play, and more importantly rare and cheap games to be bought in A LOT of stores. This is why people come here : to play and to buy games – which actually makes sense, right ?

So, I don’t see anybody who would be eager to spend two precious hours in creating a prototype when they could test so many more games. Especially when people had to pay for the entrance. It’s actually something that makes a lot of sense for me now.


Also, I was alone on my stand, so I couldn’t move as much as I would, which was a bit frustrating for me – but I knew that already. I just have to make sure that I’ll have an accomplice the next time.


But still…

It would be unfair to say that nothing turned out well tho. Despite the lack of workshops, the fair was a very interesting experience for me on several points.

1) New opportunities

I met a crazy lot of people there. I actually bought a new scrapbook to note every contact I made here and filled up 5 or 6 pages. A lot of these people were seemingly interested by the project and the workshops and invited me in new places I wouldn’t even dream of beforehand. I don’t know yet how much will actually be of any use, but it was at least very enlightening and made my fair.

2) Rethinking my next stands

Essen was actually only my second time holding a stand for my project. I did it several times before with another association, but the stakes were relatively different. My first time was in the fair Play with meuh, the 1st edition of a fair in Besancon, a relatively small city in France, so I thought the lack of workshops there was due to the size of the event. However, the Spiele Messe is the biggest board games fair IN THE WORLD, so I will never think that again.

The next time I’ll hold a stand in any fair – if the case happens – I’ll do it completely differently, with no actual workshops but just some 1st part (analyze & upgrade a game) and a deeper presentation of the project & workshops.

3) My first Spiel Messe !

This event is really legendary in the small world of games, so I’m really glad I could make it. My first time was a really intense one and I think I got a better grasp of what’s actually going on there, which will probably be useful for the next times.


What now ?

The trip continues ! I’m now heading for Austria for 2 weeks, where I hope to set up workshops in Innsbruck and Graz. As usual, if you know people interested by workshops in the area, feel free to contact me !

Next workshops : Essen, spieletage

I’ve been in Germany for one week now, and as you can see, I didn’t find the occasion to write anything about it, which means it has been quite intense. The good part is, I had great experiences I want to share, the not so good part is, you’ll have to wait a bit before I can share them !

For now, I have another week of workshops incoming at the Spiele messe at Essen, where I arrived yesterday.


This fair is basically the largest one in Europe, so it will be quite a busy time. Still, just come and say hi or create a game !


Spotlight : Essen, the city of Spiel

Some of you may remember the concept of Spotlight : shedding a light on a city I’m planning to set workshops in. So far, I’ve been quite lazy and did only one of them : Innsbruck, the Bridge city !

This may be explained by one simple fact : I wasn’t absolutely sure to go through each city, as long as I didn’t have every structure to host the workshops. Everything could change because in a blink if I had a different opportunity.

And this is exactly what happened.

I was planning to go around Stuttgart, in Germany, right before Munich. But things have changed, and I’m now actually going to Munich first, then to another city in Germany, named Essen. Let’s have a look at this city !





Essen, which may not be one of the best known cities of Germany outside the country, is nonetheless the central part of the Ruhr, which is basically a huge urban area bordered by the Ruhr river (hence the name) and Rhine. 5.3 million people are living in the area, so Essen may play a very central role for quite a lot of people.




Couchsurfing-wise, 4,183 people currently have a profile marked as living around Essen. Way to go ! I’m going to Munich to Essen, then I’ll go to Innsbruck afterwards.

…Wait. Isn’t that a very ankward trip ? First I’m going from France to the south-east of Germany, then I’m coming back to the north-west, then I’m heading straight to the south ? Does it makes much sense ?


That’s right, something very special takes place in Essen : the Spiel festival. Spiel means “Game” (and “Play”) in German, a very fit name for what’s simply the largest board games festival in the world.

It takes place from the 16th-19th of October and I will go there to set up some workshops, so I thought it was worth a little change of plans !