Spiel 2013 - a convention report

By Eddy Sterckx 29 Oct 2013 0

According to the dictionary Spiel [speel, shpeel] means : 

1) Noun - a usually high-flown talk or speech, especially for the purpose of luring people to a movie, a sale, etc.; pitch.

2) Verb (used without object)  - to speak extravagantly. 

Funnily enough both descriptions are somewhat correct to describe the largest boardgame convention in the world, held each year in the German city of Essen, and simply called Spiel ? ?Game? in German. Calling it a boardgame convention is somewhat erroneous as it?s more like an industry trade fair where the general public is welcome too. Over the course of 4 days 150,000 visitors get the chance to try-out and buy hundreds of new boardgames from a myriad of publishers, large and small. One of those publishers is a familiar name you wouldn?t immediately expect to be present there in that jungle of cardboard bits and pieces, but Slitherine/Matrix make it a point to having a booth there showing their latest releases.

 

This year?s surprise announcement was them signing on Order of Battle: Pacific - the first title in a new series of 3D turn-based hex strategy games developed by The Artistocrats - http://www.the-artistocrats.com - a new studio from game designer/artist Lukas Nijsten, best known for his work on Panzer Corps and Commander: The Great War.  To be perfectly clear, this is no re-skinned old game, this is a brand new 3D engine, written from the ground-up to be multi-platform so whether you prefer gaming on a PC, Mac, iPad or Android device you?ll be enjoying the same game and will be able to join in multi-player games across platforms. Lukas was kind enough to give me a private tour of the beta code and the pictures you?ll see below are literally screenshots - pictures taken with a digital camera of the screen as he?s giving me the Grand Tour. Caveat: this is not final art and has placeholder graphics left and right, but screenshots can never do this game justice anyway as the 3D units and environment are gorgeously animated and dynamic. A testament to this is that during the demo a group of onlookers gathered behind us with people asking if ?that game there? was for sale. So all fluff and no substance I can hear you think, but the opposite is true - the team includes an experienced AI programmer, known for his work on Commander: The Great War. What more to tell you about it ? Well, it checks all the boxes you expect from a modern digital wargame: individual scenarios as well as a campaign system where you can play both as the US and as Japan, multi-player game server, an ingenious supply system that realistically emulates the historical constrictions of the war in the Pacific and not forgetting an in-game scenario editor that is literally the most intuitive I?ve ever seen. 

For tech specs and such I?ll point you to the game?s page - http://www.slitherine.com/games/order_of_battle_pacific

 

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But that?s not all that was new. To celebrate the release of the digital version of World in Flames - the King of all Monster Games - Slitherine had invited over Harry Rowland, one of the original designers of the boardgame, for a meet & greet session with the fans who could get their exclusive game with printed maps signed by him.  This game is not for the faint of heart and after speaking with several fans I got a glimpse of what this game means to them: a real grognard challenge to dwarf all other challenges.

 

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 And there was yet another Spiel premiere: without much fanfare Slitherine has now also published their first non-digital wargame, branching out their Field of Glory line of games into the board and cardgame world with Field of Glory - The Card Game. A 2-player card-game where players have to first construct a deck of 24 cards, then battle it out over various terrain types. Hints were dropped that if this first ?testing out the water? game was a success we might get more cardboard wargames published under the Slitherine banner.  

More info : http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147451/field-of-glory-the-card-game

 

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One evolution probably everyone noticed the past couple of years is how developers are taking tentative steps in order to try to combine the strengths of the digital world with regard to bookkeeping, and fog of war with the superior player interaction offered by the cardboard world. One of the first such offerings has hit the market at Spiel as well: Leaders - The Powered Boardgame. 

It?s a Cold-War era strategy game where the object of the game is world domination by conquering territory trough diplomacy, alliances, espionage, cloak & dagger operations, back-stabbing and plain ol? military conquest. The integration with a digital device allows for a complex economy and technology tree to flourish 

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/141418/leaders-the-powered-board-game

 

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A different approach is taken by Pegasus, which gave a tech demo of Quest on a big Surface touch-screen. The idea here is using the digital device as a game-world which is able to keep track of the stats of the tangible pieces players are moving around. Prices for such a device will have to come down a lot for this to get some momentum, but it offers a tantalizing view of how gaming might evolve the next couple of years, especially in the tabletop wargaming genre.

 

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So, the above paragraphs took care of the digital news from Spiel, but of course the majority of new stuff on show there remains firmly in the cardboard world. Well, sort-of, because one of the big splashes was the presentation of World of Tanks - Rush card game. If this title sounds familiar, it should because World of Tanks has taken the online world by storm with their team-based tank-shooter that has several wargamers in my game-group seriously addicted to it. Accurate tank models and physics to please the thread-heads combined with a fast and furious gameplay that still allows for some tactics & strategy. Now we have the card game based on the digital game and given that they sold out of the product on the first day I?d call it a success.  They still had some demo copies on the tables so we managed to take some pictures which should give you an impression of what the game is like.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147030/world-of-tanks-rush

 

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A fixture at Spiel is Uwe Eickert?s Academy Games which presented 1775 - Rebellion, a wargame about the American Revolution using the ground-breaking cross-breed between a wargame and a eurogame first featured in the well-received 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Having played 1812 a number of times I was pretty curious about this new title and how it would handle the more dynamic nature of the American Revolution when compared to the War of 1812, and was assured that they managed to achieve exactly that. 

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/128996/1775-rebellion


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We also got a chance to take a peek at Devil Pig's Heroes of Normandie - shots below: 

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/53093/heroes-of-normandie

 

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Talking about fixtures: Russian historical miniature giant Zvezda was present once again after last year?s successful introduction of Richard Borg?s Samurai Battles. This time they?re going naval with Armada Invincible, a great looking ships-of-the-line naval combat game that had a steady stream of people stopping and taking a look at it. Naval warfare is big on the tabletop these days and Zvezda is always keen to spot trends and deliver the goods.

 

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Another new game from them in their Art of War series was the contemporary Hot War: Battle for Oil which is set in today?s Middle East. 

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/143145/the-hot-war-battle-for-oil

 

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Zvezda is a big company, but there?s no better way to demonstrate what having a presence at Spiel can do for even the small guys, or more like especially the small guys is the story of Blocks in the East from small Italian publisher VentoNuovo Games. Last year they had a booth the size of a shoebox tucked away in a far corner of the convention and I really had to search for them. But the game made a splash in the wargame world and this year they had a booth 4 times the size of last year?s and were presenting their new Blocks in the West game to great success. Both games sold out before the end of the weekend. 

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/131393/blocks-in-the-west

 

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Board Wargame Central during Spiel is and has always been the UGG booth where Udo and his crew will fix you up with everything your cardboard wargaming heart desires, and where you can even try-out a number of wargames. I was especially enamored by Richard giving a demo of Cuba Libre, the second game in GMT?s COIN series, but there were also a couple of prototypes on show, one of which promises a wargamer?s take on the resource gathering mechanic of euro-games - this one by UGG?s Dirk.

 

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When it comes to boardgames, wargames are a niche market, but sometimes a wargame manages to leap over into the mainstream world - often in the weirdest sort of way. Take Wings of War, a pretty interesting World War 1 aerial combat game that I?ve played numerous times but which never made headlines outside the hobby - until now. What happened is that publisher Fantasy Flight, which holds the IP rights to Star Wars, decided they?d do an X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter boardgame and poured the Star Wars theme over those WW1 aerial combat mechanics to produce one of the biggest boardgame hits of 2013. It?s like printing money is what the guys at my boardgame store tell me about the sales of this game and it?s easy to see why.

 

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I?ll end this Spiel overview on a historical note. Some wargamers still think board wargaming started in the mid-sixties with Avalon Hill and Tactics II. That may have been the case in the Anglo-Saxon world, but here are some pictures from a boardgame called Flotten-Manöver-Spiel (Fleet Maneuver Game) which clearly showcases that board wargaming has much older and deeper roots. The date of publication of this game - 1904. And no, they didn?t allow me to play it, nor was it for sale. Sometimes I wonder what wargames will be shown in display cases a hundred years from now and whether they will they be digital or cardboard.

 

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