Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Two weeks, five countries

The days after Nuremberg Toy fair were allocated for having our car serviced, some relaxation, meeting friends and doing laundry. We had booked a service, for our car, in Koblenz. Our plan was to stop in Cologne and experience German karneval.

We drove along a narrow alley towards a camping site in Koblenz. Instead of a nice place for the night we found a dark area behind a high metallic fence. It looked like the camping site didn’t even exist. Luckily, in front of the fence was a parking lot big enough for our caravan. We were by the river Mosel, and on the other side we could see the lights of the old town of Koblenz. Camping site or not, we had to stay there overnight.
Night in Koblenz.

Destructive and healing water

Water in Mosel was still high.
In the morning I saw men working behind the fence. They were cleaning paved roads in the area which looked like a camping site. Up high, on top of metallic columns, were two buildings: a restaurant and a reception. What a weird place for the buildings, I thought. A man knocked on our door. We were told to move, so that they could clean the parking lot as well. I learned that they were cleaning and fixing the destruction from a flood earlier this year. The camping site will be closed for several weeks.

So we moved our caravan to a Volkswagen garage. During the car service, Väinö and I went for a walk and had an outdoor school lesson. We learned that Koblenz is located on the confluence of the Mosel and Rhein rivers and that it is known for its wines. Close to the VW garage was a local wine store. It is always nice to buy products straight from the person who has made them. You get a good representation of the quality and you know the money goes directly to the person who has done all the work.

Later that day, when we still had some hours driving left, I called a camping site in Cologne – only to find out it was also closed due to flood damage. It was time to make some quick changes to our plans.

We ended up at Aachen. The only thing we knew about the place beforehand was that it had an open camping area. Väinö did some Googling on the back seat. He told us that Aachen is a very old town, known for gingerbread, thermal spas and Medieval coronations. Immediately, we decided it was time for a good bath. I have to say: 2,5 hours in hot water, a whirlpool bath and steam sauna finally provided the relaxation we all needed.

Karneval days and working days

On the road many everyday issues, like laundry, requires some planning. You need to have several hours stay in one place with a washing machine. Camping sites usually have washing machines and even a dryer. With 2-5 euros you can do your laundry. Bigger cities also have public laundry houses, where the washing is cheaper. We found one of these in Aachen. While the machines were rolling, we had time to look around the city and German karneval.

During karneval time the locals wear funny costumes. Stores and services are open or closed apparently at random. Advertising the special closing time is not very common. This lasts a whole week and the festival time might vary in different areas. So as a tourist you might end up in funny situations. For a week, we tried to ship one packet. We Googled for DHL post offices and found several of them, always closed, no matter what day or what time. It just happened always to be ”a karneval time”.

In Finland, stores can be open 24/7. In the village where we come from, grocery stores are open every day. I mean EVERY day. Many postal services are inside grocery stores, so you can send and receive packets every day. Sunday was the most common shopping day for our family. It takes time to adjust to different opening times.

Cycling in the heart of EU

During our tour we hope to meet the many team members and partners around Europe who help us to make our games. We visited Brussels just to meet Ruymán, a co-designer and translator in our team. We stayed in a youth hostel - Aubergess des Jeunesse - in Brussels. In addition to hostel rooms they also had parking places for caravans. Just 15 mins walk from the center of Brussels.

During our arrival we had already noticed that the streets of Brussels are not designed for large vehicles. The construction works and many one way streets did not make our driving any easier. Even without the caravan our car is quite big, so we thought about other alternatives to get us to Ruyman’s party on the other side of the city.

Timo and Väinö had their bikes with them. During our drive I had seen some city bikes, so I asked from the reception how to get one. It is rather easy, with only 1,60€ you can rent a bike for half an hour, extra time costing just a few more euros. There are many places where you can pick up and return your bike. But I warn you: Brussels has many hills and you need to drive among the cars. Still, this is an easy way to get to know the city. And now I have been cycling in front of the EU Parliament.

Väinö and Dualo.
Along with his other other talents, Ruymán is a musician. His party had an international band with many interesting instruments. So we managed to get another music lesson for Väinö. He played drums, "Timple" - a quitar from the Canary Islands and a new, Kickstarted instrument called a Dualo.

In Brussels we saw many soldiers. Väinö found that a bit scary. We had talked about terrorism and attacks in Europe already at home. But now all that discussion become a reality. I didn’t tell him that the metro station we used was a target of the latest attack. We cannot live in fear, we must live.

Good friends, good food

When we left Brussels we were very careful with our satnav. On our way into Brussels we had taken a detour via Luxembourg, because we had entered a wrong destination (well, the writing looked similar…). Our route took us through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and finally to Switzerland. 

In the land of chocolate and cheese we stopped at Matthias Catrein's home. He created some of the illustrations for Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift – but most people probably  know him from his work on Dominion. We soon found out that in addition to board games, both of our families liked cooking. Matthias’ wife has her own mobile food service.

So while playing Darwinning! we talked about food and tasted Finnish salmiakki (salted licorice). The next day we visited a nearby chocolate factory. I now have a kilo emergency box for bad days.

Our tour now takes us towards southern France. It is the Cannes Games Festival this weekend. You can find us at booth 06.10. A bientôt!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Not So Fair Toy Fair

Our booth behind the column.
I rushed along long corridors filled with cardboard boxes, plastic wrappings, pallets and trash. I had already walked through three large halls. Hall 10, where our booth was, was still to be found. Eventually I found our 3 meter x 3 meter spot: behind an almost meter wide column, which blogged the entrance and visibility to the booth. “This can not be true...” I picked up my phone and called to the contact person for the Toy Fair. He soon found out what my opinion was of being charged a full price for a booth in such a location.

Very hard obstacles

So our first impression of the Nuremberg fair wasn’t the best one. Part of it was due to the fact that I hadn’t got time to read all of the information material the fair provided on their website. Now that I have read those, I still haven’t found all the information we would have needed beforehand to avoid all our trouble. It seems, maybe due to the long history of the event, organizers cannot see it from the first timer's point of view. When I compare the communication we got with, for example, UK Games Expo, it is like night and day. From UKGE I have got a personal service, from Nuremberg I have got mass produced emails with irrelevant information.

We managed to find a reasonable solution with the organizers concerning the entrance blocking column but the biggest obstacle was still ahead. In the morning, our son was not allowed to enter the fair. The fair has an age limit of 16 years. I had talked about our son’s participation earlier that week with the organizers' representative and got the impression it should be ok, because he has an exhibitor pass. I had also visited the fair service office during the assembly day with him, but nobody had said anything about his age and possible difficulty to enter.

You can imagine how furious and frustrated I was. It took three hours of negotiations to get one form filled in and an approval from high up. Eventually I got an A4 sheet with a signature and a stamp. With that, Väinö was able to enter and start working. He gave an interview in English and charmed many customers on the first day alone.

Timo and Väinö interviewed by Eric Martin from BoardGameGeek.

Professional or passionate

I kind of understand the age limit. Nuremberg Toy Fair is a business-to-business event. Nobody wants to have children around playing. The fair has a system where young Toy Experts must have a permission to enter. They are, however, obviously not very keen to promote and use that possibility. This year, our son was the only minor at the fair.

For three months I have been deleting emails which offer hired models for various tasks at our booth at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. During the fair I saw those models, professional in looking good. What I don’t understand is how a model just smiling in a pussycat costume can be seen as more professional in a game fair than an 11 year old presenting a game he has designed.

Brain teasers designed by Constantin
Even though we were expecting a b-to-b event, we didn’t expect it to be so stiff and formal. People in suits were selling toys, games and funny costumes. But they didn’t seem to enjoy it. There was no enthusiasm, no passion, just profit expectations.

Our booth neighbour was a nice exception. Jean-Claude Constantin designs and produces wooden puzzles and brain teasers. Beautiful, almost art-like toys which are very hard to solve. It's also a family business, but their son was old enough to work at the fair without extra hassle.

We also met a nice couple from Brighton. They were the very first visitors with whom we could talk about gaming itself and the passion of playing. @iplayred tested Darwinning! and liked it. Can’t wait to see her review.

Far away

After a couple of days, the half a kilometer route from caravan to booth became familiar. Across fallen oak leaves, over the big road. Past the concierge in funny costume. Then through the halls: first remotely controlled cars, an atrium filled with miniature tractors, then outdoor toys with trampolines and bikes. Pyrotechnics, balloons and party equipment, carnival costumes and insane variations of demonic contact lenses. Some chess boards and jig-saw puzzles and eventually: our booth behind the column.

On Saturday morning it snowed a little. I phoned my mother. I had had my morning coffee from a mug my recitation group gave as a farewell present. It has a winter scene from Lapland. I felt a little home sick, but when my mother told it was still -20 degrees celsius, the feeling eased a little bit.

The Nuremberg Toy Fair was the first of over 20 conventions we are going to participate in this year. Here is the list of events and cities where you can find us for the next 4 months:

8.-9.2. Cologne, Germany
10.-14.2. Brussels, Belgium
23.-25.2. Cannes Games Festival, France
1.-4.3. LeiriaCon, Portugal
9.-14.3. Valencia, Spain
16.-18.3. Ludesco, Switzerland
24.-25.3. Ratingen Spieletage, Germany
6.-8.4. Modena Play, Italy
12.-22.4. Venice area, Italy
24.-27.4. Rome, Italy
30.4.-9.5. Vienna, Austria
11.-14.5. Brno, Czech
15.-17.5. Krakow, Poland
18.-20.5. PyrCon, Poland
1.-3.6. UK Games Expo, U.K.
4.-26.6. around U.K.

So far we have travelled over 3,000 kilometers. And as you can see, we still have a few ahead. I hope to see many of you on our tour!