BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.


SPIEL 2013: [Amusing pun goes here!]


It’s a little over a week since I returned, bleary eyed, from Essen in Germany and the annual SPIEL games fair. Just like last year I made the trip from Cambridge with fellow designer Matt Dunstan, and after a 4:30am start, we made landfall at the Messe around lunchtime. SPIEL was, as ever, a fantastic event, and here are the severely edited highlights…


The very first item on the bulging agenda after reaching the halls was to head straight to the Lookout Games stand and grab a copy of my new game Karnickel. I’d seen pictures, of course, but this was the first time I could get my hands on a box. Fortunately, Matt was on hand to record the event! It remains to be seen what the gaming public will make of Karnickel, which is hardly the sort of thing said public have come to expect from Lookout. Someone on BGG has described it as “like a kid’s first 18xx”, which is cute, if completely inaccurate.

Matt, it must be said, was toasting his own success with the recent publication of Relic Runners by Days of Wonder: a brilliant game with brilliant production values (but of course: this is DoW!).

This year the SPIEL gods had picked up all of the pieces, given them a good shake, and dropped everything from a great height, in a different part of the Messe, and in an entirely different order. Hence we and everyone else spent a lot of time wandering around a little lost. The move to three enormous halls has certainly simplified the geography, but the loss of familiar landmarks (and the lack of readily available maps!) meant getting from A to B was something of an adventure. Nothing wrong with adventure, in principle, but when you’ve got meetings to attend, the adventure can become rather less welcome.

And boy, did Matt and I have meetings! We’d set up lots of appointments before the event — 16 in total — and had a fantastic welcome from everyone we met. We’ve been working on a series of co-designs, and had a slew of our own designs, and it was exciting and a little nerve-wracking to finally get them onto tables in front of publishers. Fortunately, we had some really positive reactions, and had a great time running from meeting to meeting. It remains to be seen just how many of these particular chickens come home to roost, but fingers crossed!

A big part of the SPIEL experience is seeing old friends and making new ones. Stand on a deserted U-Bahn platform, in a hotel lobby, or in a queue for train tickets for long enough — to pick three examples at random — and you will discover that gamers and game designers have a habit of spotting each other! There is also a large and growing British contingent at the fair, and it’s always a pleasure to spend a little time in their company.

Mark your calendars: After all, it’s just a little over 50 weeks before it all happens again!


What is the collective noun for game designers, I wonder? A tableau, perhaps? A mechanism? A shuffle? Whatever it is, that’s what we have here! (left to right): Me, Tony Boydell, Gavin Birnbaum, Sebastian Bleasdale (who is taller in real life than this picture might suggest), Alan Paull and Matt Dunstan. (And, hiding in the background, you might just be able to spot Richard Breese, too!)


Matt, Henry, Dean and Gavin in the lobby of the Ibis, trying their hand at a spot of String Safari. This game had the advantage of not requiring a great deal of thinking to play, which, after a hard day at the Messe, was just as well.


A couple of passing trombonists try their luck at Karnickel.

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