Summer, sunshine, scouting for board games!
Our Belgian Dice & Mystics member had invited us to come along to the Brussels Games Festival 2018. We had never been to the Brussels Games Festival before, nor – to tell you the truth – had we ever even heard of it. We had no inkling of an idea what we had been missing out on! On arrival early in the morning, our anticipation reached a climax when we saw how large an event we were looking forward to. No entrance fees. Does that mean…? Yay! You can keep all your money for the games. And: Location is not everything – but a setting like that certainly takes some beating!
Located in the “Parc du Cinquantenaire” (Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary) on 40,000 square metres there were rows and rows of mostly white tents, booths of so many publishers with games of all colours and for all tastes, speciality shops, clubs and associations… The park is the site of a former military parade ground. In the course of the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence in 1880 it was used to stage a World Exhibition. So, the annual games fair takes place in a very prominent and also beautiful part of Brussels.
During the last weekend of August, the Brussels Game Festival had a bit – or rather a lot – of everything: three days of board games, party games, miniature games, educational games, wooden games for inside and outside, role play and LARP, international games, casual and hard core games, children’s games, game prototypes, tournaments and a game night, and also the people who design, make, and sell the games for our wonderful hobby.
Right at the foot of the imposing Triumphal Arch at the entrance to the grounds- 50 metres high and illustrating the history of the city – there was a huge sales area for second hand games with a sizeable queue forming. (The sky abuve was dramatic.Early in the morning the air was still a bit nippy, but soon it was turning into a lovely day altogether, with just a few clouds every now and then.)
If you expect to find some musty worn around the edges thrift store quality when you hear the term ”second hand“, you will have to re-think your ideas.
For any French speaking gamer the second hand area must be like a big toy shop at Christmas to a little child because, not surprisingly, about 80 % of the offers are in French. (Don’t sue us if we don’t get the percentage right but that is how it felt.)
Quite a large number of games were language independent or copies in many other languages and it would have been easy to come out the other end of the second hand area with a pile of excellent games in excellent next to new condition, and in German, too. There were choice titles from recent years, from all the old and new classics to the multitude of Star Wars and other IP games and a whole kaleidoscope of enticing games we had never seen or heard about before. We very nearly bought “Yggdrasil”, even though it had a French rule book, but it looked all new and shiny and the price was hugely tempting; I personally felt my resolution to just look around and not buy anything at our firs visit slowly but constantly dwindling…
Just behind this wonderland of budget board games there was another most attractive feature of the Brussels Games Fair: the Protozone. No – not “protozoon” like one of the early organisms that preceded the later more developed species; the prototypes of still unpublished games proudly presented by their designers and artists were all of them well advanced, looked good on the table and, judging by the fun everybody appeared to be having, will eventually find a publisher and an eager international audience that will buy these many creative products.
Everything is fresh, and the sheer variety of game ideas and mechanisms just swoops you off your feet and makes you sit down and play, play, play…The empty space is deceptive; the tent was huge, and there were dozens of rows where games could be sampled. On entering you could collect a list of the games present, and when you played a round of a game, you received a stamp on the space of the game you participated in. On leaving, you could circle up to three games that you liked best and put your vote in a box as a feedback.
I got a chance to play Canyon Cup, a fun and exciting racing game with a tongue- in- cheek twist, by the brothers Pirson, again. It was a surprise visit. I remembered an early version of Canyon Cup from when it had just been finished and was presented and tried out on “real, live gamers” for the very first time at the Dice & Mystics Fringe 2016.
The refined and polished game with its modular board proved to be really popular with the visitors who were already queueing up behind me and our Belgian friend while we were racing our cars along the parcours through the desert canyon, outmanoeuvring and shooting at each other, exploding barrels and collecting popularity with our fictitious audience of the ranks. There are any numbers of racing games about, but apart from all the good things that can be said about Canyon Cup there are the original winning conditions and different ways of fulfilling them by which Canyon Cup elegantly avoids a problem that is frequent in other games: You do not have any runaway victors, the race remains fairly open and unpredictable to its very end. There are people I know who cannot wait to lay their hands on Canyon Cup when it finally comes out, me being one of them. (If it comes to choosing the driver – I play crazy eyes Walter! So hands off him!)
Have you ever navigated a Zeppelin in an air fight? Ever been engaged in a deadly ball game? Here are “Zeppelin Crasher” (left) and “Mortal Basket” (right).
The Protozone was easily the most fun part of any games fair we had ever been to. It was like an excellent “game night” with friends old and new. The languages used at the table were French and just as frequently English as a lingua franca to communicate with numerous visitors from abroad. The time spent at the Protozone was surely one of the best gaming experiences you can have, take our word for it.
There were Games of The World.
There was an outdoor game going on that reminded me of Kubb. People in the park were playing Cricket. And there were strange things…
Talking about meeting friends and acquaintances – we had last seen video reviewer Barry Doublet at Spiel Essen. It was his first time at the Brussels Games Festival, too, he admitted, and he was just doing his first round along all the booths. He was a good sport with getting Eric-Lang’ed (ever had your picture taken together with Mr. Lang? Then you will know) and told us he would also be at the Spiel Essen fair in in Germany, October 2018. We will make sure to drop by at the Bombyx booth where he will be demoing Imaginarium, Abyss and Catch The Moon and say hello.
There were so many activities and animations going on, we simply could not take our time to really appreciate them at our first visit. We decided to leave that for the next time and concentrated on board games and their makers only. In the vast expanses of the park, we counted 74 publishers. One look at the poster shows you how long a list it is and how spacious an event, too.
Outside in the different parts of the park you could find all kinds of publishers great and small.
We were expecting to see Mythic with their upcoming “Solomon Cane”, and there they were.
We expected to see ”Perdition’s Mouth” by Dragon Dawn Productions from Finland again, and there they were.
Matagot – yep! Just to think how hard it often is for us to get one of their fascinating games in Germany.
Iello? Why, sure!
Some Quidditch? Apparently yes. (Although we did not see anyone flying around on a broomstick.)
And someone somewhere would surely be playing “Azul”, and – yes, found them at it!
“A” as in “A-smodee”? Have a guess. Nearly an entire row, tent after tent, red and white and mostly larger than those of other publishers, sported the Asmodee flag.
After several rounds and discovering something new at every twist and turn, we needed some rest. Time for a break. The drink of the day – unless you preferred soft drinks altogether which is fine – was “Cave Troll”.
You have a choice of a variety of food trucks: Belgian fries, roast and fried cheeses, sweets… Have a pick.
When we had just grabbed our lunches a sudden but brief shower (and the only one the entire day) drove us to seek shelter under one of those large chestnut trees and we ate, well protected from the rain, until with the last bite the sun came out again. Excellent timing!
The afternoon was a time of new discoveries. We totally fell in love with “Bourpif”, which we understood (or misunderstood) means as much as “getting one on the nose” (in all friendship, of course) or maybe “Nasenstüber” in German, and …
… were also enamoured on first sight with some very special trolls that looked fun and came with a set of luxury limited art prints (in the game the lovely young lady does wear a brassiere!). Of course, “Trôl” had to come along!
There went the last shred of our original resolution not to – oh, bother!
So much for “not buying any games”… The best was yet to come. We ran into graphic artist Naiade/Xavier Gueniffey Durin who was on his way to the Lui-même booth where he and the game designer of “Snow Time” were to meet for signing copies, because this was the very first day the game was sold to the public. He was surprised because normally people recognize his name, but not necessarily his face, especially not people from abroad. It so happened that we were the first to buy and got a brand new copy, stamped and marked as as # 1 and signed by Frank Meyer and “doodled” by Naiade, if “doodle” is appropriate a term for an original full drawing by the artist while we waited.
On the whole we were impressed by the colours and beautiful designs of all the French language games and often enquired whether there were also rules in English or German available. Sometimes there were, sometimes there were not, and sometimes there was no imminent answer to the question and both the people at the booth and we needed to check together on the internet. A whole new gaming universe was spreading out before us, if only we knew the magic words to unlock its secrets…!
What was best about the Festival? The games you could buy, old and new, of course. Playing games and having such fun, of course. Spending time with our friend. The people we met. The location. The fact that, unlike at other – meaning indoor – fairs, you also enjoy the sun and fresh air and lots of space and nice views and all the things you see around the Brussels Games Festival. The fact that you get to see games and prototypes you do not that likely to see anywhere else. The fact that it is for free. What was best? Why, everything was!
And then there is Brussels itself, with its sights, parks, beautiful architecture, and that lovely Pâtisserie just round the corner. So then was it worth it, visiting the Brussels Games Festival 2018? Well, we have been thinking back on it every day and enthusiastically telling everybody who did not make it up a tree fast enough about it, and we are firmly set on going again and again and again!
So: YES. We strongly recommend the Brussels Games Festival. Definitely.
If you can, do go!