Essen Spiel 2020 organisers say world’s biggest board game convention will go ahead - for now - despite coronavirus

Events banned in German region of North Rhine-Westphalia until September.
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Image: Friedhelm Merz Verlag

This year’s Essen Spiel, the biggest board game convention in the world, is still planned to take place this October despite the worldwide impact of COVID-19, its organisers say.

Essen Spiel takes place in the German city each October, and typically sees the release of thousands of board games. Last year’s show reportedly saw a record attendance figure of 209,000 people, making the game fair the largest board game event in the world, ahead of US show Gen Con’s approximate 70,000 visitors. It’s worth saying here that Essen Spiel doesn’t clarify whether its figure accounts for returning attendees across multiple days of the four-day show, meaning the number of unique visitors may be a lower number.

Essen Spiel 2020 is due to take place from October 22nd to 25th. In a statement acknowledging the “possible threat from the coronavirus” surrounding large-scale events, Essen Spiel organiser Friedhelm Merz Verlag said that - for the time being - there were no plans to delay, cancel or otherwise adjust this year’s convention.

“We are continuing our preparations for Spiel without any changes,” the organiser wrote. “Of course we are doing this with a sense of proportion.”

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which includes the city of Essen, has banned all large events until the beginning of September in an effort to restrict the spread of COVID-19. No official word has been given on whether events after August 31st will be permitted in the region; Friedhelm Merz Verlag said it would update its decisions regarding Essen Spiel as necessary given the changing situation.

“Due to the very dynamic development, we will continue to re-evaluate the situation in the coming weeks and months, taking into account the specifications and recommendations of the responsible authorities for the staging of events,” it said. “Our priority is to protect the health of our visitors, exhibitors and employees.”

The organiser confirmed that exhibitors would be refunded if the event was cancelled. When asked by Dicebreaker whether additional social distancing or other health and safety measures would be in place should Essen Spiel 2020 go ahead, a Friedhelm Merz Verlag spokesperson declined to comment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen several board game and tabletop gaming conventions delayed or cancelled, including the postponement of UK Games Expo to August and the replacement of US event Origins Game Fair in June with “virtual convention” Origins Online as the physical show moves to autumn - a mere two weeks before Essen Spiel.

The plans for Gen Con seemingly remain unchanged in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, with the US show’s organisers announcing at the start of April that the convention will take place from July 30th to August 2nd as planned.


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Matt Jarvis

Editor-in-chief

After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.