So what happens when you take my last two Gen Con trips – one where I had a massive amount of games to sell to excited fans, and the other where I was a legitimate board game celebrity – roll them up together and then combine them with my previous Essen experience where I am overwhelmed and lost in a foreign land?
You get me absolutely losing my mind, pinballing from one disaster to the next, but yet somehow still having a good time and selling a lot of games in the process. Once again, I come back from Germany with very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I may have experienced some psychotic break around Saturday evening, but, looking back on it now, most of what I remember is the pleasant stuff.
So where to begin? I could probably talk for hours about all the things that went wrong, so I’ll try to just limit it to the big things. So with that in mind, the biggest mistake I made was right at the beginning, when I lost my credit cards and drivers license at the airport security checkpoint in Chicago. I still had my passport, but I had absolutely no money when I landed in Germany.
Luckily I ran into Julie Ahern from Greenbriar Games, who was also flying in from Chicago, and was nice enough to spot me the train ticket from the airport into Essen. From there, I met up with Paul Grogan, who took care of me until the second half of my team, Price Johnson, showed up with some money for me.
As an aside, Price is a great guy. He first worked for me at Gen Con, and was really great at running the demo team. He proved invaluable countless times while we were at Essen, and I most definitely couldn’t have made it through the show without him. He’s now helping me with customer support for Cephalofair Games, and I am very lucky.
So Price brought in a lot of money for us to use as change during the show. Spiel is almost exclusively a cash sales convention, which seems unheard of in the US, but I was totally cool with it because I did not want to mess with setting up a system for credit card transactions in a foreign country. Cash sales would work fine, so long as we had change. Unfortunately, though, Price could only get 50s from the ATM, so, without any access to a bank, we spent Wednesday morning wandering around a mall, buying food and some things we needed for the booth in as many transactions as possible, paying with a 50 every time. I feel a little bad about it, but it ended up working out. Even though we got dangerously close at times, we never ran out of change the whole show.
Wednesday also presented new challenges, though. Our truck full of games didn’t arrive until very late in the day (which was significantly better than what other companies experienced – not having their product show up until Thursday or Friday – after the convention had already begun), and the truck driver didn’t have a pallet jack to actually move all the pallets he had in the back of the truck.
I’m still confused by this, but apparently it was my responsibility to find a pallet jack. Thus began my valiant quest to find a pallet jack, which took about 45 minutes and involved me talking to lots of people and filling out lots of paperwork. In Germany, you have to fill out lots of paperwork for everything. By the time I returned with a pallet jack, we were very much running out of time before security wanted the truck out of the hall so they could close the loading doors, and even after we got all the pallets off the truck, it was a mad race against time to get all 360 copies of Gloomhaven out of the boxes and stacked up before they completely shut the hall down and forced us to leave. We did get it all done, just in time, but only with the massive help of Gamdow Games, our very generous neighbors.
One thing we didn’t get done, however, was go to Ikea and get bags large enough to fit a copy of Gloomhaven in. It being such a stupidly large and heavy box, I really wanted to make it easier for people to carry it around, but because the games arrived so late, we weren’t able to make the trip over there. I would hear complaints about this constantly for the rest of the week.
With all of that behind us, though, I decided I needed to play some games, so I went to hang out with Ekfa and Jon and play Altiplano, the new bag-building game of alpaca farming from the designer of Orleans. It was… pretty good. There were far more resources to manage than in Orleans, and everything felt much less directed. There was just so many different things to do, and none of it felt very connected. Also there really wasn’t any player interaction to speak of. I think Altiplano did some things better than Orleans, but I think Orleans provided a better overall experience for me.
And, as a side note, for a game about alpaca farming, two of the three players in the game did not acquire a single alpaca the entire time. I won the game by just focusing on making glass.
The other thing about Altiplano is that it took an incredibly long time to play, and I didn’t get to sleep until after 3 in the morning. Four hours of sleep is just not enough when you’ll be spending the entire next day on your feet talking hundreds of people non-stop. Thursday was great. We sold through more than half of the copies we had, and I met a lot of really nice people who were so excited to tell me how much they loved Gloomhaven, but, well, by 6 pm when the hall closed, I was ready to die.
I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who came to talk to me. I love you, but I am an introvert, and talking to people expends energy for me. By the end of the day, I just didn’t have any more energy to expend.
I got more sleep Thursday night, which made Friday go a lot better. We almost sold out, and then I went to a very lovely Heavy Cardboard meetup. I am always happy to see Edward and Amanda, but I also ran into Brandon from the Brawling Brothers and Robb and Christina from Blue Peg, Pink Peg. Since I have an ongoing rivalry with Robb, we ended up going back to his hotel and playing Gaia Project until 3 in the morning. I have problems managing my sleep when board games are on the table.
Gaia Project was pretty great, but I’m not yet sold on whether it surpasses Terra Mystica, the game on which it is based. Some parts just seem needlessly complicated and the art and graphic design, well, they leave much to be desired. I didn’t think I was someone who would be affected by that sort of thing, but it does detract from the excitement. I just never got that sense of wonder that I got in those first few games of Terra Mystica. Maybe it will grow on me. I plan on playing it a lot more.
Also, the rule book had a fatal typo in it which led me to believe that the power used to terraform a purple planet had to be spent from the highest power bowl, but a new online rule book makes it clear that the power can be used from any of the bowls. This meant that, because the race I was playing was focused largely on terraforming the purple planets, I was operating at a huge disadvantage. I didn’t win the game, but I still beat Robb.
Saturday went pretty well, especially after we sold out and I could focus on just demoing Founders of Gloomhaven for people. I enjoy demoing about 100 times more than I enjoy sales, which is to say, I absolutely hate sales. I am terrible at it, and it causes me large amounts of stress.
Price and I then went to a No Pun Included meetup, met some new friends from the UK, and played some social deduction games. The Chameleon was really nice in just how simple it was. It is basically the same rules as A Fake Artist Goes to New York, but instead of drawing two lines, players just get to say a single word. One single word, and from that, you have to figure out who doesn’t know what’s going on. It plays very, very fast because of that, which was nice.
We also played Secrets, which I was a pretty disappointed in after Shut Up and Sit Down recommended it. My problem with the game was that, after a handful of turns, everyone knew what team everyone else was on, and then it just became a game where you passed your teammates the best possible card for them. The members of the neutral Hippie team could shake things up a little bit, but only if they drew the right cards. There weren’t nearly enough role swapping abilities to make the game interesting. Once everyone knew who everyone else was, there was no incentive to swap roles when you could instead just give your teammate five points.
And then came the mental break Saturday night, but I really don’t want to talk too much about that. I was exhausted, I made some mistakes, and started taking criticism about different things from multiple people. It was good-natured criticism, but my brain couldn’t really handle it. Luckily, I was able to get plenty of sleep, finish Sunday strong, and spend one more evening with Brandon, Robb and Christina. We got drunk, and I don’t remember the names of the games we played, but it was fun.
I was very ready to head home the next day, though, but not before running into Julie again during a long layover in Dublin, where we played Tokyo Highway on the floor of the airport. That game was legit, once we figured out the rules. I like to nit-pick games, if you can’t already tell, but I have no complaints about Tokyo Highway. It is a great little three-dimensional spatial puzzle with some dexterity elements thrown in for good measure.
And that was it. I survived. I had fun. I’ll be back next year, but I kind of want to try it without the booth. I don’t know, I guess it will depend on whether I have stock of Gloomhaven to sell and whether I can get to Ikea on time.