Essen 2005 Report - In and Around the Sunriver Games Booth

For my first Essen Spiel report I thought I'd focus on the Sunriver Games booth. This was such a learning experience for us rank amateurs, but I think we pulled it off with very few snafus.

Julie, the boys, and I arrived in Essen just after noon on Tuesday, October 11. We checked into our room at the Hotel Arosa and started to notice some other gamer folks hanging around the hotel, including Lorna, Doug, and Mimi. After grabbing a bite to eat, we walked over to the Messe so that I could check out the booth and see if our rented furniture had arrived.

Outside the Messe

It was a bit strange finding my way into the hall - I figured one of the main doors would be open to those with exhibitor passes. I finally approached the security guard at the drive-in gate near the south entrance, showed him my pass, and he let me through. I was surprised at how little had been setup yet - most notable was the Settlers of Catan Bus, but very few of the smaller exhibitor booths showed signs of any action yet.

Essen Hall Layout

I quickly found the way to our booth (4-52) but was slightly disappointed to see no furniture there. I was stumped about how to resolve this, so I wandered around for a while looking for someone official. Nobody looked official. The most common site was folks drinking beer while constructing booths.

The Empty Sunriver Games Booth

Eventually I referred to my layout map and discovered the service center over by Hall 5. Inside the center I found a very helpful woman who noted my request for furniture, confirmed my reservation, and spent some time on the phone with someone. About five minutes later she told me the furniture would be there within an hour. I wasn't going to setup Tuesday anyway, so it was good to know it would be in place for setup on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning we used our rental car to drop off all of the Havoc product. You can drive a car into the parking setup area if you have an exhibitor pass and a 50 euro deposit, which you get back as long as you leave within an hour. We hauled our goods the short trip through hall 5, through the 4A hallway, then to our booth in hall 4. Still no furniture. I walked back to the service center and they were surprised the furniture wasn't there, got on the phone, and indicated that perhaps it was left at the wrong booth and that they would fix it promptly. By the time I returned to the booth, a mover was carting our tables to our booth - they were sitting just behind our booth at another (4-62 I think).

Booth setup took very little time as we didn't have much to do. The biggest challenge was cutting down our fabric table covers to fit the tables. In hindsight we wish we had brought a larger hanging tarp or cloth to drape from the booth wall. To this we could have attached banners, price information, etc. without risk of damaging the walls. As it was, we taped them to the booth walls but had a hard time getting the residue off at the end.

KC and I took a break from setup to attend the press event. There were definitely some lessons learned here. You need to let the Spiel folks that (1) you have a new product you are releasing at Essen, and (2) register to show that product at the press event. This would have allowed us to setup a small table on Tuesday or Wednesday morning with our goods and have a formal presence at the event. As it was, we lurked, passed out cards pointing to our booth, and left some press flyers for folks to take (they were all taken within about 15 minutes). So we did OK, but lesson learned for next year.

We stayed around the hall till early evening as we had a decent amount of traffic without the show even being open - we probably sold 10-20 copies of the game on Wed afternoon. It was also a chance to checkout the used game vendors in hall 4 and see if there were any good deals.

Thursday morning presented a few logistics issues as we tried to coordinate pass purchases and get as many of our demo team in as early as possible. I was able to buy three more exhibitor passes and hand those out, but there was no easy way to buy 4-day passes for general admission ahead of time. Things worked out fine despite the huge crowds on Thursday morning. By 10:30am our demos were in full swing.

The Havoc Demo Team in Full Swing

We sold about 80 of our 310 games on the first day, which was a big surprise. We extrapolated this out with some projected growth and though we might sell out as early as Saturday evening. Thursday would turn out to be our best day, which I think is indication of some of the pre-show buzz we worked up and the niche attraction of Havoc: the Hundred Years War. We would do reasonably well with walk-up sales, but due to the remote nature of our booth most folks that came by were looking for us.

We had a number of "celebrities" come by the booth. Mik Svellov

KC and Mik Svellov

Andrea Meyer

KC and Andrea Meyer

and Derk Solko came by and interviewed Jacob and Julie.

Derk Interviews Julie

KC, Julie, Jacob, and I would have been overwhelmed giving demos were it not for the help of our demo assistants. Doug, Mimi, Lorna (all pictured below), Mike, Richard, and Ben: thanks for your time and dedication to making this event work. Ben and Mike both knocked our socks off by giving demos in German. I think Mike even surprised himself.

Chris, Doug, Mimi, and Lorna at the Booth

Cleanup on Sunday evening was more about getting a TON of boxes ready to ship back with Funagain than actually cleaning up our booth, though we did need to expend some serious energy cleaning the booth walls of residue. We wrapped up by around 7:15 and worked our way back to the hotel for a final evening of gaming.

Matthew in a Box

Well, that about wraps it up. The event was a great success on so many levels, new friendships were forged, and we met our objectives with Havoc. We are already planning for our trip next year, and if things go well we might even have a booth again with another game to sell.

The Havoc Team

Germany Day 6 - Koln and Essen Arrival

The transition from Koblenz into Koln is pretty dramatic - it became clear that we were leaving the hills and forest of southern / central Germany and heading into more flatlands with occasional rolling hills. Our one destination in Koln was the famous Dom Cathedral, an impressive structure that dominates the landscape of the city.

Dom Cathedral from the Outside

The Dom is a major tourist attraction, and the crowds were the largest we had yet seen in Germany. The inside is dramatic, with impressive stained glass and unbelievably tall ceilings.

Inside the Cathedral

We opted to climb the bell tower to get a sense for how tall the cathedral really was, as well as to get some needed exercise. Along the way we passed the immense bells and large groups of tourists returning down the spiral stairs. The stairs are actually in three discrete sections with two of them offering extremely narrow passage.

Boys Climbing the Tower

The view from the top made the climb worthwhile. This is a good time to reflect on just how amazing the weather was for the trip: most days were clear, 60s to low 70s, and we barely noticed any precipitation for the entire 12 days of our trip. This is as unusual in Germany in October as it is in Portland.

View from the Tower

Our touring complete, we climbed in the car and completed the final drive into Essen to check into the Hotel Arosa. It was a tad bittersweet, but everyone was ready to be done driving around and welcomed the chance to stay in the same room for several days. Plus we had the Spiel fair to look forward to. I'll wrap up my Germany posts over the next few days with some detailed Essen reporting.

Germany Day 5 - Up the Rhine to Koblenz

While we knew that day 5 would end in Koblenz, we weren't sure until the day before what route we would take to get there. We thought seriously about heading to the Mosel valley to visit Burg Eltz and some of the other sights along the way. But missing the chance to drive up the most scenic portion of the Rhine valley was too much to risk, so we set off for the valley to see some castles.

Burg Sooneck

Schloss Stozenfels

One problem: the day was Monday, and most castles appear to be closed on Monday. This meant that our day consisted of driving from one castle to the next and getting some nice photos from the outside.

Castle is Closed

This made the boys a bit anxious (and disappointed) so we made sure to treat them with some solid playground time.

Playground on the Rhine

While navigating, Julie read ahead to see what other options we had to try and see something on Monday. Castle Marksburg seemed a likely bet given the prominence of the castle as a tourist destination. One problem: the castle is on the other side of the river, so this meant getting all the way to Koblenz, crossing the river, then doubling back to the south for a bit. There was still the risk of the castle being closed, so we found our hotel and checked in around 4pm and kindly asked the friendly front desk clerk to see if the castle was open and till what time. We brought our luggage to the room then checked back with him - the castle was open! But it was going to close at 5pm! Quick kids, jump in the car so we can storm the castle…

Turns out the castle was open until 6pm, but the final tour started at 5pm. We made it in plenty of time and joined a German language tour. This was Julie's favorite castle as it has the distinction of being one of the few (the only?)castles in the area to have not been sacked at some point, so it lacked the baroque or neo-classical treatments so common in the other castles that were rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The castle is situated on a hill overlooking the Rhine and offers spectacular views.

View for Marksburg

Monday night we did a walking tour of Koblenz and enjoyed the peaceful riverfront. Situated at the junction of the Rhine and the Mosel rivers is the Deutsches Eck with an imposing statue of Kaiser Wilhelm. We all enjoyed climbing to the top of the statue base and watching the sunset over the Mosel.

Statue at Deutsches Eck

Koblenz at Night

We finished the evening with a nice Italian dinner in an open air plaza. Jacob also got in a brief blogging session with the BlackBerry.

Jacob Blogging on the Blackberry

The next day would conclude the touring portion of our trip as we finish at Essen. But not before a brief stop in Koln…

Germany Day 4 - Heidelberg

The old part of Heidelberg is striking - an old ruined castle looms over a beautiful German village. We were fortunate enough to have a hotel room in the Parkhotel Atlantic, which is located above the castle with amazing views of the city.

Heidelberg Hotel

This room was substantially better than our room in Tubingen but was identically priced (about 140 euro for the night, including breakfast). It was nice to have some space to move around, though with a shared bed one of the boys opted to sleep on the floor each night. The boys caught up on homework and did a bit of blogging the first night we arrived. We stayed close to the hotel for dinner, dining at the Wolfsbrunnen restaurant. This was our finest dining of the trip but was still very affordable.

Heidelberg Hotel Room

The next day (Sunday) was spent hiking around Heidelberg. The castle is more impressive from far away than it is from the inside - it was all a bit touristy. The one exception was the apothecary museum, which is first rate and very educational with detailed descriptions in English.

Heidelberg Landscape

The city itself was a pleasure to stroll through, with many historical buildings and the famous bridge spanning the river Neckar. The highlight was the Holy Ghost Church, and a climb to the top of the tower is highly recommended.

Heidelberg Bridge

Next up is a drive up the Rhine valley to the lovely town of Koblenz.

Germany Day 3 - Ludwigsburg Palace, Maulbronn

Day 3 begin with our departure from Tubingen and a drive back north toward Heidelberg. We planned for two stops along the way - Ludwigsburg Palace and the monastery at Maulbronn.

After some small challenges parking (we started by trying to drive straight through the palace gate, but the guard would have none of that and sent us over to park below the department store) we entered the palace grounds by about 10:30am. Note that this is a palace, not a castle. Think estate, mansion, playground with the mistress. The grounds were huge, and we only sampled a small part of it. The best comparison I can think of is Versailles, but not quite as baroque.

Ludwisburg Palace

(Note: that's not our rental car in the picture above)

We took the English tour which was well worthwhile, and really the only way to see the interesting parts inside the palace. The guide was German-speaking but French, and her English was more than adequate for the tour. The back story is the most interesting part of the tour.

Ludwigsburg Gardens

We of course had to check out the game section of the department store; while not quite as impressive as the game store I saw in Frankfurt earlier this year, it still went way beyond what you see anywhere in America but the niche hobby game stores.

Department Store Games

Next up was the drive to Maulbronn on the way to Heidelberg.

Maulbronn Map

Julie and I greatly enjoyed the visit to the cloister; the boys were less impressed. I think Julie and I preferred the more subdued architectural lines and stark nature of the monastery, while the boys prefer the gaudiness of the palace.

Maulbronn

The name Maulbronn actually means "mule fountain", and the town is famous for the legend of its founding:

Where the Eselsbrunnen ("mule fountain") stands today is where the mule was reputed to have stopped and quenched its thirst at a stream. The monks saw this as a sign from God and it was there that they decided to build the monastery.

To this very day, the legend lives on in the name of the town (Maulbronn literally meaning "mule fountain"), the coat of arms of the town and the etching of the mule drinking from the water in the arched vault of the fountain house.

Maulbronn Fountain

We finished the day with the drive to Heidelberg, which will be the subject of my next post.