How I ruined Essen 2019

I wanted to be smart, hack the system, and make an awesome Essen experience this year. It turned out, I am not that smart. It turned out, I ruined everything.

It was my 12th Essen. I figured out Portal Games is a pretty big publisher. I have an amazing team. They don’t need me anymore. They can run the show. They can build the booth, bring the product, sell the product, organize a demo team, do it all. Finally, I can step back.

So I did. I decided I will arrive on Thursday evening so I will be at the show on Friday and Saturday only. On Sunday morning, I planned to come back home. What a wonderful plan it was!

It started bad very quickly.

Detective got nominated for innoSpiel award and the ceremony took place on Thursday afternoon, at Spiel. Along with Deutcher Spiele Preis – Detective made it to the list and won 6th. place. Prestigious, class ceremony with all the press and media from Germany. But you know, Ignacy had this awesome plan for Essen, right? Small faux pas, huh? Luckily, my German publisher, Pegasus Spiele knew how to act. They accepted both awards on my behalf.

Things escalated quickly. On Friday morning I received a printed plan for my meetings. I looked at it and gasped. My first meeting was at 9:30 am, my last meeting was at 6:30 pm. Altogether 16 (sixteen!) meetings packed every half an hour. ‘What is this?’ I asked Greg. ‘I had to fit all the meetings in only two days. What did you expect?’

Awesome Essen experience, that’s what I expected. Not being stuck in the tiny office for nine hours straight.

‘Here are cookies from a fan’
‘Trzewik, everybody asks for you’
‘Zee was here, was looking for you’
‘Rodney was here, was looking for you’
‘Here is a gift from a fan from France’
‘Everybody asks for you’
‘Trzewik, that was a bad idea. Everybody asks for you’

Yeah, tell me about bad ideas. I know it all.

In the meantime, it turns out we were publishing on social media the wrong date for my seminar. All our fans are confused. Some come to our booth asking about seminar. We explain it takes place on Saturday, not on Friday as we were informing on our social media. Awesome Essen experience.

I am entering the booth office again, but before that I grab Marek. ‘Take Pret-a-Porter, go to the BGG booth and prepare the presentation, set up everything. I have a meeting now, and right after the meeting, I will run to the BGG booth. The live stream starts right after I finish this meeting. Prepare everything so I can start the demo the moment I am there. It’s gonna be tight.’ He grabs Pret-a-Porter and goes to BGG booth. I have a meeting. I finish the meeting. I run. The live stream starts in a few minutes. I take no prisoners – I trip over people, I act like an elephant, I have one goal – run, Ignacy, run!

When I reach, Marek smiles.

‘You had it wrong in the calendar. Live starts in 50 minutes.’

Very freaking funny.

I guess, I just won a special price – I can visit the restroom for the first time today.

Back to the BGG booth. Live stream with Rodney. Great time, he knows Pret-a-Porter – it is so much easier to discuss the game and present to the audience when Rodney asks me good questions, knowing how to teach the game. In the meantime, I drop the bomb and make reference to the classic joke about Rodney and his tutorial video for Star Wars Rebellion. Rodney loses it for a few seconds. Well executed Ignacy.

Run. Back to the booth. Late for a meeting. One more meeting. End of the day. It’s Friday evening. The second day of the Essen. I saw no Essen. We are in the car. My team complains on me. ‘People are asking about you all the time. You should be at the booth.’

I know. I know. Awesome Essen experience. What was I thinking?

***

Saturday starts. I try to be at the booth as much as possible. I sign games. I take selfies with fans. I take all the meetings fast and efficient. I have two double-booked meetings because of another calendar mistake. Hours pass. Finally, it is 3 pm. We run for a seminar. Spiel invited me to run seminar about 20 years of Portal Games. We are in Germany. We are at Essen. I am a guest speaker for Spiel. I prepared a nice and civil version of my Gen con seminar. And then the files on the computer are gone, somehow I have only half of the prepared slides. I need to improvise. I can improvise. I am best when I improvise. The only problem, no longer I am nice and civil. With every minute the seminar is more and more funny and less and less nice and civil.

I get my applause. After the seminar, fans from the audience are coming to me saying it was the funniest seminar they ever attended at any game convention. I am pretty happy with the outcome. Then, about an hour later I meet Max from Spiel. He says that the seminar was recorded and will be published by Spiel on their official channels. Well, that’s exactly why I should stick to the slides, be nice and civil. That’s exactly why…

Anyway, I run again. We have a live stream for Essen Spiel. I am supposed to play with Tom Vasel. We run to hall 6. In the hall there is no booth number as mentioned in the email. I double-check the email. Ah, that’s the booth number they used last year. No idea where they are this year. I sit at the booth and wait.

Few minutes later Max from Spiel rushes to Portal booth, looks at me and yells: “Ignacy, where are you, Vasel is waiting!” I answer in the most stupid way possible: “Where are YOU?! I was looking for you in a hall…” We run. We reach the booth. They are doing me makeup. ‘Where is the game?’ Andreas asks. ‘What game?’ I ask. ‘The game you should play with Tom.’ Ah, that game…

They run. I sit with Tom and chit chat pretending everything is fine. In the meantime Max tries to convince Portal employees they need to get him copy of Empires of the North and they need to give it to him NOW!

We play the game. It’s fun, a ton of jokes, plays quick, I lose. Damn it.

Go back to the booth. Pizza party with our amazing Portal Gamers team. Jokes, selfies, beer. And the German security guard. ‘You have no right to have a party here.’
‘Yes, we do’
‘No, you don’t’
‘Yes, we do’
‘No, you must stop now and leave the hall’
‘Ignacy don’t argue. The party is over.’
We say sorry to our team. We clean the party. We go back to the apartment. We check in the emails. We did have the right to have a party, we did all the paperwork and payments. Something went wrong on the Essen side. Pity. Ruined our fun time with our friends volunteers.

On Sunday I come to the booth to say goodbye to our team. Shake hands with volunteers and that’s it. I am leaving Essen. I feel terrible. I bought 3 games. I missed all friends. I missed all the Essen. I failed my fans. I ruined Essen for myself.

No more. No more. Never again 2 day Essen.

How was YOUR Essen?

12 Essens

2007
The optimism. The belief it is our life-changing chance. It’s the year of Neuroshima Hex English release. It’s also us almost get killed in the car accident on the way to Essen. It’s us signing our first license with an American publisher, Z-Man Games. It’s me having terrible flu on the last day of the fair. Like really, really terrible. It’s Portal Games signing a contract with IELLO Games. They will become our partner for years.

2008
Moving to the new location. We are next to the CGE and we help each other to promote our games. It’s releasing my first game in English, co-design with Michał Oracz called Witchcraft. The game doesn’t become a major hit. It’s me running demo of Witchcraft for one of the founders of BGG, Derk and kicking his ass. Not smart to beat press and media during the demo, but well…

2009
It’s the first time Portal Games is doing the epic buzz for the game. It’s the release of Stronghold, and the whole board game world is discussing it. It’s my first live stream at BGG. It’s the first time we are #1 on the BGG buzz list. It’s the first time foreign publishers bidding to get rights for the game. It’s the first time Tom Vasel reviews and praises our title. It’s also our first terrible rulebook.

2010
It’s the first scandal with our production – the box with 51st State misses one of the tokens, we made a mistake and didn’t put it on the punch board. It’s also the first glory moment – one of the most famous German reviewers, Frank Kulkmann, gives us the award for the best game of the Essen Spiel 2010. It’s us eating Haribo bears all day long – we grab them from other publishers booths. It’s the first time we are in Essen with Rebel Games, our exclusive distributor.

2011
It’s Pret-a-Porter year. It’s me trying to convince our hardcore fans who love Neuroshima Hex, Stronghold and 51st State that the game about fashion is a great choice. It’s a Portal team wearing fancy clothes at the booth. It’s the first year for the company without Michał Oracz. It’s a strange year.

2012
It’s the second time Portal Games grasps the attention of the whole board game world. It’s the year of Robinson Crusoe. It’s me going to BGG live stream with volleyball ball that pretends to be Wilson from Tom Hanks’ Cast Away movie. It’s us signing licenses with 12 different publishers to release Robinson in different countries. It’s our first game we sign with Pegasus Spiele. It’s another terrible rulebook. It’s another great Essen.

2013
We move to the new location, again. We split with Rebel Games. After a few years of marriage, it is the first time we are on our own again. It’s the release of Legacy: a testament of Duke de Crecy, brilliant, thematic game with the crazy title. It’s spending great long hours with Michael Hendricks, designer of the game in the evenings. It’s also starting the Kickstarter campaign for my first book right during the show. It’s pure panic when in the very first hours the KS goes far better than planned. It’s me running all around the fair, asking my friends designers to help me and write the article for the book as a stretch goal. It’s me playing 51st State match against a very good Hungarian player. The match takes place in the evening in the restaurant. I am getting smashed. It’s also a year of release of Theseus, but who remembers that game today…

2014
And again we move to the new location. And again, we have an Essen hit – Imperial Settlers. The lines are insane. A number of signed copies, each with a drawing of a cow, is beyond the limits. We have no free tables, we have no space, we have no clue what’s going on around us. One of our volunteers builds a “coffee table” from cardboard boxes, covers it with a piece of rag, and starts demoing the game asking everybody not to touch the table. We are under siege, as never before. The game sells out on the second day of the fair. The most successful Essen in history. Poland becomes World Champion in volleyball that year beating Brazil in the phenomenal final match that takes place a few miles from my home. I don’t hesitate to mention that victory when signing copy of Imperial Settler to my fan from Brazil.

2015
We are releasing Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot. Don’t remember much from the show except one thing. Last day of the show, Sunday evening. We are in the Irish pub in Essen watching football match Poland versus Ireland. The winner of the match goes to European Championships. The loser is out. There is a pub full of Irish supporters and 5 of us from Poland. Singing, shouting, supporting with the whole passion. Poland wins the game. The night to remember.

2016
We move again. We move to the prestigious hall 3. The epic booth is one of the best looking booths at Essen that year. For the whole 4 days of the show I cannot help it, but compare it all to the year 2007, the year when I feel we made it – Portal Games is doing something exceptional. At this show, we are releasing Cry Havoc, and for the first time, our German division releases a game – German edition of 51st State. Jeff, our volunteer from US, who was with us at every Gen con, visits Europe and is with us all Essen. I meet Patric, the most insane volunteer Portal ever had. Essen 2016 is the Essen we moved to the hall 3. The Essen to remember.

2017
We increase the size of the booth. Portal Games is one of the major exhibitors at the fair with a 200 square meters booth. We release First Martians and Alien Artifacts; none of them becomes a major hit of the show. It’s the first time we must care for power banks and tablets – First Martians demos and Rising 5 demos need some technology! We have an army of amazing volunteers. We have a great team. And although I see that this Essen releases are not very popular, I am optimistic. At that time I am already working on Detective. I know the next year will be huge. Detective is phenomenal.

2018
Monolith Arena on 20 tables. Two offices as part of the booth busy with ongoing meetings all day long. Seminar for press and media with the announcement of L.A. Crimes expansion for Detective. Then a special Detective event for nearly 100 players playing Suburbia case in one big room. The year of Detective released in German at Portal Games and Pegasus Spiele booths at once. A great year, although there is one issue – I am missing Champions League game – my favorite German football club, Borussia Dortmund, plays a game a few miles from Essen. A ton of my friends go to see the match. I don’t have tickets. Sad face.

2019
As I am writing this post, my team is on the way to Essen. It’s the first time I will show up only for two days. It’s the first time I will be more visiting than running the show. It’s the first time Portal Games doesn’t mean Ignacy. It’s the first time Portal Games means amazing team that can do exceptional work and needs boss only to smile for selfies and interviews. It’s the first time… It’s awkward. Weird. It’s different.

Things changed over these past few years. Things changed…

Which our Essen was your first Essen to discover Portal Games? Any cool memories from that time?

Stronghold Undead 2nd Edition is coming here.

It’s impossible. It literally cannot be done. There is no way I can sell you the full scope of colors, depth, and history of this project. I spent more than a year designing the base game of Stronghold, and then another few months designing Undead variant. The game was out of print for 10 years until we finally decided to get back to it. I sat with my team and spent countless hours developing the game even further. Stronghold: Undead is a pure manifesto of my Board Games That Tell Stories tagline and trust me, it’s a great story on so many levels. It’s impossible to tell them all, and yet, let me try.

So where do I begin?

Besetment of the fortress is one of the richest and most inspiring themes in the fantasy genre. The battle for the Helm Deep and defending it against an army of Uruk-hai is a stunning piece of fiction. Having a board game telling this story, having a chance to command forces and try to break the walls, or fight in despair to defend them, is the theme for a great game night with your old friend.

Stronghold: Undead tells that story. You command dark forces of evil marching towards the Pearl Keep. You may summon Phantom Gale to move your forces, or change the foregrounds into rotten Marshes boiling with dark energy. You may cover ramparts with Ghostly Mist so your forces can move unnoticed. Your Vampires besiege walls and give their dark power to Phantoms that hover over the towers and dump defenders on the ground. Skeletons slowly march towards walls, while Strigoi abducts archers. Cursed bats veil the moon covering the battlefield in darkness. The whole table is in your control, wherever you look, it’s your army closing the pale fist around the human castle. It’s a majestic view.

That’s a glimpse of what the game has. 24 different spells for Invader player, different forces, different wall sections they can attack, and then we can start talking about the wealth of defender actions and his desperate fight to keep the fortress safe. Stronghold: Undead is a fascinating project that lets you relive the epic siege.Well, as I said, it is impossible to tell it all. It’s impossible to sell the depth of this project. And yet, I’ll try. I’ll try to give you a small glimpse, a piece of all the stories that Stronghold: Undead tells. I have a couple of weeks until the Kickstarter campaign finishes. Stay with me.