Designer’s guide to Essen Spiel – Part 1

designer tips, event, game design


After dreaming about it for years, I finally went to Essen Spiel in order to pitch my games to publishers. Have you ever thought of going? If so, read on!

When you book an appointment with a publisher you’re taking up time that could be spent on someone else. It’s unlikely that you’ll have a chance to play the games during the meeting so the publisher will have little more than your description to visualize your game.

If you can’t convince a publisher that your game is the best in the world, they’ll be more inclined to go with someone who can.

Book early
The longer you wait, the fewer affordable rooms and flights you’ll be able to find. If you really want to go, the best thing you can do is commit early.

Your hand luggage should include a prototype of each game, a change of underwear and basic hygiene gear. Everything you can’t quickly replace in Germany should go in your hand luggage.

Schedule appointments
If you only follow one step in this guide make it this one! Otherwise it’s very unlikely that the publishers will have time to see your games.

Start by making a list of all the publishers you want to talk to. If you follow them in social networks you already know if they’re going to be there. If not, you’ll want to find out which publishers your games fit into.

To do so, there are two possible starting points. Spiel releases a complete exhibitor list and floor maps but it’s only published two weeks before the event. You can go through it and check the publisher’s websites to see which fit your games, but keep in mind there are a lot of them. This year there were 910 exhibitors.

If you want to start the list earlier there’s another way. BoardGameGeek compiles a list of all the new games that are going to be at Essen, and you can scroll through them to find games with theme and components that are similar to yours. From there it’s easy to look for the publisher’s contact details.

As for the e-mails, I kept them short:


I’m a game designer and I’d like to show you my games! Do you have 30 minutes at Essen Spiel?

Thank you for your time,

These few lines started several dialogues that lead to sending them a short description of the game’s themes and mechanics, along with a mid-game picture to make it easier to visualize.

It’s easy to go crazy and e-mail a big amount of publishers. I don’t blame you, this is exciting! One word of advice though: when booking meetings you should count on the time to go from meeting to meeting. Spiel is a huge event that takes place in several halls with hundreds of booths. I found half an hour to be just enough time to get lost and find my way to the right booth in time!

Follow this link to read Part 2, which will cover the last steps before the event!

Humor in boardgames

game design

Recently Shut Up and Sit Down published a review of Cards Against Humanity which stirred up a lot of online discussion. After a couple of interesting conversations I was left wondering about humor in boardgames and how the designers approach games when they explicitly want to make the players laugh.

I’ve found most funny games seem to fit in one of these three categories:



1 – Games with jokes

These seem to be the most common. The game does its best to make the players laugh using jokes on the cards and/or funny illustrations. It can leave a good impression IF the players find it funny.

With repeated plays the players will see the entirety of the game’s content. More often than not the humor will fade away and the players will only keep playing if there is a good game underneath the jokes.



2 – Games that include humor in their design

This is unusual, but always a treat. The humor is built right onto the rules set of the game. This one is easier to explain with an example, so here we go:

“Village” is a worker placement game with a twist. There are several generations of workers. As time advances in the game the earlier generations start dying and they go on the Village’s Book of Deeds, which earns you some points. When the book is full, they go to (worthless) unmarked graves. So early on you start planning your strategy to get the most of your workers and kill them in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes, to get the last spot in the book you can even rush the passage of time to make sure the worker dies before someone else’s.

This is such an integral part of the game, you can’t ignore it if you want to win.



3 – Games that let the players be funny

These games can be the funniest of all, and usually they don’t even have any jokes in them!

How can that be?

Well, it’s up to the players! These games are light on rules, but give the players just enough ingredients to create hilarious situations. The humor comes from the interactions between people, and often from misunderstandings.

Every time you play you get a different outcome because the game is just a vehicle for genuine, human and comical moments. The replay value on these is through the roof and the games create very memorable situations because they were so spontaneous.


Of course there are also games that are unintentionally funny, but I’m only looking at this through the lens of a game designer that wants to make a funny game. This could even be the theme of a future article.


Just as humor is subjective, so are these categories. Your favorite might not line up with mine and that’s totally fine as long as you have fun!

What’s your favorite funny game?

I admit it, I was really surprised to find out that the funniest game I’ve ever played doesn’t include a single joke! I’ve never played a bad game of Telestrations, so if you get the chance please give it a go!