SPIEL is the world's biggest boardgame fair. Specifically, it's 86,000 square metres in size, spread out over six halls of the Messe exhibition centre in Essen, Germany. This year, when I visited for the first time with friends from Witney Board Gamers, there were 209,000 recorded entries; 19,000 more than in 2018. It's clear to anyone paying attention that boardgames are growing rapidly as a hobby, with gaming groups and cafés popping up all over. The sheer size and popularity of SPIEL is even stronger evidence of this trend; the global boardgames market was already estimated to be worth $4.6 billion by 2018.
While SPIEL - or "Essen" as it's often called - is the most important boardgames event in the world, it also fills a relatively specific niche. It is first and foremost a trade fair, and so it isn't so much playing games that is emphasises, but buying and selling them. The strong retail focus is clear as soon as you arrive; seasoned visitors are already dragging trolleys piled high with the latest releases and older games at bargain prices. Publishers are not only selling games to the public, but also holding meetings with designers and distributors behind the scenes. For that reason, booths often have their own hidden meeting rooms and business suits are as common attire at SPIEL as cosplay.
Tabletopia is a simulated boardgame system, playable solo or multiplayer through a browser or via Steam. With over 500 games currently playable, it's a great way to try out games which aren't yet released, aren't readily available, or are costly. There are occasional glitches but's well worth checking out not least because most of the games are free.
So far, the best game I've tried is the innovative Roll Player, designed by Keith Matejka and published by Wisconsin-based Thunderworks Games. It's a dice puzzle game for 1 to 5 players which is closely based on the character creation process in RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons - and while that might not sound fun, Matejka has done an incredible job.