BLOG: Essen Memories, part 2

French Revolution

I remember 2007 and our first Essen. We went to the Spiel with Neuroshima Hex and our pitch was ‘hybrid game’. It was a time of two worlds colliding. On one hand, we had all those awesome American games, with a great theme, perfect artwork, and rules that were so-so. FFG was coming up with titles like Doom, Descent, Warcraft and it was the Ameritrash arm of the hobby.

On the other hand, 2007 is a year of Agricola, guys like Rosenberg or Feld were invading North America and making a very interesting point – there are geeks who like farming and point-salading.

Portal Games as a super small publisher back then was trying to convince everybody that the future is in the hybrid games. Super cool theme combined with solid rules. Neuroshima Hex had an Ameritrash theme, but euroish rules. Two years later we did Stronghold, which was on one hand pure euro with cubes, but at the same time one of the most thematic fantasy games ever. The same with Robinson Crusoe, hybrid again, euro rules, ameri theme.

There were more and more such games, designers were blurring the border between Ameritrash and Eurogames. Of course, we had Stefan Feld defending euro camp, of course, we had pure Ameri too, but more and more games were hybrid.

And then, French hit and man, they hit strong. Narration driven Dixit, story-driven Time Stories, and Sherlock Holmes changed the way we play today and changed what we are looking for in the games now.

I like to think of myself as a forerunner of this trend with Robinson Crusoe released in 2012 and the whole Board Games That Tell Stories concept, but of course, this is not true. There were more and more games focused on a good story, there were more and more gamers looking for that in games and then it just exploded. The tremendous success of Time Stories and the new edition of Sherlock Holmes, both games created in France were a true starting point of the revolution.

In 2017 among the most popular and most discussed games we had Gloomhaven and 7th Continent, both games with super strong narration. New edition of Robinson Crusoe was selling like crazy for the whole year, Sherlock Holmes was in Top 10 best selling games in America. For 2018 there are more story driven games announced, with my very own Detective: modern crime board game being one of them.

It’s a great time for me. Portal Games was founded in 1999 as a company that was releasing Role Playing Games. Telling stories was always in our DNA. For years we were creating super thematic euro games, with Stronghold and Robinson Crusoe being the best examples. Now we can move further and focus even stronger on telling stories in our games.

I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how the industry and games will look like in 10 years. But the time we have now, the French revolution, the story-driven era is pretty awesome.

Bring me that horizon! I am ready to tell some good stories!

Ignacy Trzewiczek, Wed Jan 17, 2018

*****

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…

Ignacy Trzewiczek, Tue Oct 22, 2019

*****

My best Essen so far

Every Monday I play football. If you are a boy and if you ever played any sports, you know that locker room is basically a room filled with morons. Mean jokes. Bantering. Trash talk. Boys having fun. Some psychologist could probably precisely explain why 10 dudes closed in a one room start to act like a bunch of jerks.

Every Monday I hear jokes about Portal Games.

Hey, Ignacy, how’s your new rulebook? Working already on a FAQ?

Hey, Ignacy, how’s balance in Cry Havoc?

Hey, Ignacy, I heard you didn’t finish First Martians in time. Perhaps you should stop playing football on Mondays. You are not that good player anyway.

Every damn Monday. Festival of jokes.

I literally believe these morons are spending a significant amount of time every Monday browsing forums just to find a new topic for mean jokes about Portal Games.

This Monday it was my first game after Essen.

‘You did amazing at Essen, man. Congratz.’ I heard when I entered locker room. I knew this was some fucking preface for another mean joke about Portal Games. I looked at the guy and waited for a punchline.

‘I mean it, man. Congratz. You did great.’

That was it. No trash talk. No stupid punchline. Just respect from a fellow jerk.

Felt freaking awesome.

Essen 2016 was for Portal Games show like no other ever was. After those years of releasing strong titles like Imperial Settlers, Robinson Crusoe, Tides of Time or this year Cry Havoc we felt amazing. The whole booth was a demonstration of that feeling. Our booth was big, it was beautiful, it was full of fans, cookies, people from all different countries and continents. Crowded all the time, with fans asking about First Martians, saying nice things about our new releases, shaking hands with us and taking selfies. It was amazing four days. Surrounded by fans and by Portal Team volunteers (these guys are hardcore fans) I felt proud and happy. And my whole team felt exactly the same. That was our moment. That was Essen to remember for years.

I will never forget this Essen.

Thank you for being there with us.

Ignacy Trzewiczek, Wed Oct 26, 2016 

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