For many folks, having a booth at the biggest board game convention is a perfect opportunity to get your game out there in the world. Having gone to Essen three times now, I was curious about the other side. What’s it like to a run a booth?

I talked to Paul Stapleton from Bedsit Games, Paul Toderas, the CEO / Creative Director of Tangled Towers (which is part of Underground Games), Karsten Schulmann from Stimulus Games, and Jeppe Norsker of 50clues.com to find out.

1. When did you arrive, and how long did it take to set up your booth?

Essen 2019: a behind the scenes look at running a booth

Paul Stapleton:  I arrived on Wednesday morning to set up the press area stand (actually with 1 minute to spare, EasyJet was late as per). Setting up the stall usually takes about 30 minutes, then a while longer to faff around with the details. This time was longer still as we’d flown through the night and were knackered.

Paul Toderas: Arrived Tuesday evening. Took us about 4 hours to set up everything.

Karsten Schulmann: Due to a hickup in the timeline (I am looking at you, DPD!), we arrived one day later than planned. So we began on the last possible day (Wednesday) with building our booth. Since we had a small one and everything was well-prepared that was no big deal. We rendered the booth setup in 3d beforehand, so we had a lot of time for getting the best layout possible. At Essen we just had to replicate that in about 2.5 hours. Lay the carpet, hang the wall covering, pop up all the banners, build the tables, store the rest of the stuff behind our fake wall. The demo tables have been set up every day from scratch, so we didn’t bother doing this on the same day.

Jeppe Norsker: I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and started setting up immediately. I was well prepared so it was really fast to do. Also because my friends at Sidekick Games helped me out. The most time-consuming part was doing the wiring for the TV and small lamps on the tables on Wednesday. Actually it was the months up to the fair that was most time-consuming. Designing the booth, buying stuff and preparing assembling.

 

2. Around how many copies of your product(s) did you bring? How did you arrive at this number to bring?

Paul Stapleton: I brought 200 with me, just because Gamesquest charge by the pallet and this is approximately how many fit onto one (coincidentally it’s also how many fit into my friend’s car to transport them to Gamesquest). It turned out to be a little optimistic, but I’d rather than than run out half way through!

Paul Toderas: We sold out Jagged Alliance! 🙂 We also demoed Castle von Loghan and took pre-orders.

Essen 2019: a behind the scenes look at running a booth

Karsten Schulmann:  It was around 100 units of Movie Empire and one prototype of our next game. I thought that to sell 25 a day would be a good start for a first-time creator. That roughly equaled selling 1 game every 20 minutes, what was slightly more time than we needed to go through the game to explain everything to a visitor). Man was I wrong… I should have brought with me a lot more. But lesson learned. People are at the show to buy games. Period. That’s their main impetus. So next year, I will bring more to Essen. But thankfully I had also the same amount of expansions with me, because more than 90% went all-in with a bundle. That was a far higher percentage than I had expected.

Jeppe Norsker: I live only 8 hours away so I rented a van and filled it up with games in a mix of 50% English and 50% German. My 50 Clues games are really small, so I just brought as many to Essen as possible. 1000 sets of 3 games in total. And then 4,000 free mini-games that we gave away for free.

 

3. What were 1 or 2 unexpected twists the con threw at you, and how did you deal with them?

Paul Stapleton: Meeting an out and proud Trump voter and supporter – I’d not met one in the flesh before. Fortunately he was touting his trade rather than wanting to buy and figured out pretty quickly we weren’t suitable for what he was offering and wandered onwards. Then shortly afterwards I met two Labour-voting morris dancers from Yorkshire, so it felt like balance was restored.

Paul Toderas: BGG called us in for a 10 minute demo of our game on their live stream. Met some amazing people and met some our backers!

Karsten Schulmann: This year went pretty smooth. Last year was our first year at SPIEL as an exhibitor. So lots of new things to learn. I remembered from earlier visits that booths had a floor, something carpet-like. That was indeed correct, but it wasn’t provided. You had to bring your own. Over the years I learned a lot about being prepared for simply everything with a fail-safe solution on a movie set, so I don’t know why I was so thoughtless here. This meant speeding to the local furniture store and buying some carpet that barely fit into the car. Two days later I had to go to the same store again, cause 2 chairs broke. Yeah, that year involved a lot of running.

Worst thing this year was that my co-designer for one of our future titles got sick one day before SPIEL started – and I had no replacement available for him. He missed the first day, showed up on the second – and that was a very bad idea. He had to cancel the weekend with a suspected pneumonia. Luckily he’s still alive and kicking.

Jeppe Norsker: The fair is only accessible for exhibitors one hour before opening, but even then, visitors kept coming by the booth to talk and buy games. It was really difficult to focus on the setup. During all four days, I never had time to take a break or eat lunch.

Essen 2019: a behind the scenes look at running a booth

4. How was your location? Would you keep the same one for next year or would you look for another one?

Paul Stapleton: Well initially I was worried a board game (albeit with fantasy leanings) might not fare too well in what was predominantly an RPG area, and it did feel like some of the footfall didn’t reach us out on the hinterlands of hall 6 but in all honesty I think people who did wander our way were able to take their time more as they weren’t being buffeted by the crowds, and lots of folk came to find us which was lovely.

I grew really fond of our hall though – I loved the weird, quirky and diverse mix of stalls, it felt like a vaguely-apocalyptic marketplace and I loved that. I think I’d fancy a stab at hall 4 or 5 next time if possible.

Paul Toderas: We kept the same zone [Hall 5], but different position. It was open and accessible.

Karsten Schulmann: The location was great. We had a corner booth with only 2 walls directly at a crossing between the aisle from the hall entry and the aisle to the restrooms. 😉 So many people came by and stopped to have a look. Additionally it helped that the booths next to us had an island style (that means no walls at all), so our artwork-heavy booth could be seen from far away. So as long as we don’t manage it to get into hall 1 next year (and I am sure that won’t happen), we’ll stick with that location for sure.

Especially if you compare this year’s location with last year. Then we had a booth in the corner of the hall, directly opposite the Memory championship. Yes, that’s a thing. I didn’t know either. This scared many people from using that aisle and it was frigging loud there. So as I said, this year was heaven to us…

Jeppe Norsker: I was in hall 5 and I think my place was kind of ok. Maybe I will pay for a bigger booth area next year, but it depends.

 

What will you do differently next year?

Paul Stapleton: I would make more space to demo and less just to display the game. I might even just set up a couple of demo tables with a wall of games on display behind me. And I would definitely, definitely make sure I had a chair to sit on. 60 hours standing? Ow.

Paul Toderas: Too much to describe, but mostly make sure to get the same area and get a new banner.
Karsten Schulmann: Have you seen Jaws? So I would say: “You’re gonna need a bigger booth.” 😉 We reached our limits with 3 staff members, demoing 2 different games and selling Movie Empire on that small area. And next year we’d like to show more. So space is definitely an issue. It will be much more expensive per square meter than this year’s booth, but we’re thinking hard of expanding. That… and a jacuzzi. We’ll see.
Jeppe Norsker:
  • I will hire more German-speaking staff.
  • I will designate one trusted person to take care of cash payments.
  • I will share more free mini-games. Also in German.

Learn more and connect

Thanks to:
  • Paul Stapleton from Bedsit Games
  • Paul Toderas, the CEO / Creative Director of Tangled Towers (which is part of Underground Games)
  • Karsten Schulmann from Stimulus Games, who worked many years in the media business creating immersive experiences, so the transition to creating equally immersive board games 2 years ago was seamless. Apart from designing games he also supports other game creators with graphic design and video production.
  • Jeppe Norsker from 50clues.com