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Please Play: Visiting The World's Largest Game Fair in Germany

Home to the world's largest game fair, Essen plays host to an estimated 150,000 visitors at this year's International Game Days with a spotlight on Asia -- a booming gaming market.

Close-up of man playing with Rubik's cube

The language of games will be spoken by people from 31 nations at this year's fair

Playing explicitly allowed. So goes the motto of International Game Days 2008. Whether board games for children or adults, strategy or fantasy role plays or even old classics like chess or the German card game Doppelkopf, everything is in Essen so long as it's fun.

With 735 exhibitors from around the world, the Essen Trade Fair is devoting its 44,100 square meter floor space through Sunday to the novelties that keep our hands and minds busy. At every stand, visitors are encouraged to sit and play.

This global tradition of an annual meeting in Essen has gone on for 25 years and has become the meeting place for writers, suppliers, critics, and pedagogues interested in exchanging their ideas.

"Monopoly" holding strong despite financial crisis

The fair likewise serves as a testing ground for new games -- a litmus as to how well they might do in the ever-important Christmas shopping season.

Close-up of a hand holding four playing cards -- all trump

Even simple card games like Skat are on display

“Despite the financial crisis, we're hoping that the sales of puzzles and games this year will bring in around 400 million euros ($504 million),” said Michael Hopf of the German Association of the Toy Industry.

The No. 1 seller, of course, remains “Monopoly.”

And though unlike the board game where rent perpetually increases, prices for customers should remain stable. The options available to them have grown tremendously, with a record 550 games introduced this year.

“The mix is more colorful than ever, with everything from simple card games to complex and expensive board games,” said Dominique Metzler, spokesperson for International Game Days.

Trends: from high-brow to eyebrow piercing

Though diverse, it's easy to see trends cropping up at this year's fair. Literature is one theme that keeps popping up, said Metzler. Bestselling books like Umberto Eco's “The Name of the Rose,” or Frank Schaetzing's “The Swarm” have provided the basis for two of the more sophisticated offerings.

“Games like that will automatically open up a new target group,” said Metzler. “And later they can be sold in book shops.”

Host of Germany's Wer wird Millionaer standing in front of the tv show's logo

Quiz show style games like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" always prove popular

Quiz shows and party games set the basis for another trend. A well-known chef developed a cooking quiz where players guess at the tricks and gimmicks behind the art of cooking.

Another novelty appearing at this year's fair is a more intimate game, one in which players must guess if a colleague has ever had her feet kissed or which of the other players has a piercing in an unmentionable area.

Of course, the latest and greatest electronics are always sought after. This year's award-winner for the category of children's games goes to an electronic board game. A mini-computer shaped as a chest plays prominently on the board and speaks in a variety of voices to the children, giving them tips on how to find a hidden treasure. Integrating modern technology with an old aesthetic is what made that game a winner, said Metzler.

“What's important to us is that the electronics in these games are easy to use,” said Metzler. And that the technology used is done so effectively.

"The German Games"

Two young boys dressed as detectives standing in front of a board game

Kids can get into costume for role-playing games

Germany, according to Metzler, is the world champion of parlor games. Nowhere else in the world are there so many game publishers, innovators and creators as in Germany. Because of that, the country's created quite a name for itself internationally.

“When a foreign distributor speaks about top quality and affectionately cast strategy games, they often refer to them as ‘The German Games',” said Metzler. Blockbusters like “The Settlers of Catan” were exported worldwide and translated into a number of other languages.

Internationally, the games market is likewise booming. This year's trade fair will have participants from 31 nations. Nearly half of the exhibitors are traveling in from abroad.

One especially growing market is that popping up across Asia, said Metzler.

“All of Asia seems to have discovered board games,” she said. Four years ago, for example, Korea was a newborn to the industry. Now the Koreans have their own pavilion at the trade fair, financed by the government.

Eastern Europe has likewise come to the card table. “The market in Poland and the Czech Republic is booming,” said Metzler.

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