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Essen SPIEL 2018 Robbery Stories

Read the Stories ~ See the Response

SPIEL in Essen means: Four days of fun, meeting friends, playing and testing thousands of games and novelties together with gamers from all over the world,” says the website for Europe’s largest game fair. Unfortunately, to several individuals, SPIEL meant underhanded opportunities to strike.

Essen Spiel, organized by Friedhelm Merz Verlag GmbH & Co KG, is the largest event in the world based around tabletop gaming. Held in Essen, Germany, every October, this event draws in an attendance that is now topping 190,000 attendees.

In 2018, over the course of the four-day event, at least six small companies were targeted in various ways and suffered losses of cash, product and personal effects. One individual was apprehended in connection with a particular event, but the cash had been taken by an accomplice and there was no recovery. Although security at the show and the Essen police were notified, there was not much recourse to take.

In total, these six companies lost over $20,000. These are small to medium sized companies, run by a handful of individuals, often just family and friends in some cases. SPIEL is a year-long preparation process, and the profits from this show are sometimes the life’s blood for the company, allowing them to continue creating and publishing the games their customers love.

Recovery efforts are underway. All the companies agree that the largest concern is the lack of improvement steps in SPIEL’s security, but recouping these losses follows closely behind.


Japanime Games * Artipia Games * Greenbrier Games * Gotha Games * Folded Space


UPDATE: Our Robbery Recovery effort recouped almost 100% of our losses and we are forever grateful to the donors! Please visit our WALL OF FAME to check out these wonderful people!


"A few days ago, after a very successful Essen Spiel, Japanime Games president Eric Price and the lovely Kimo dug deeply into their energy reserves to break down the show kit and pack up product to put another convention weekend to bed.

While they were packing up, Kimo was approached by a man, who asked for change for a 20€ bill. It seemed a bit strange, as the show floor was closed at that point, but Kimo did not want to be rude, so went into the booth's 'office' to make change. She felt a bit odd, and looked around to see if anyone was watching, but saw no one from within the office. She changed out the bill and went back to breakdown.

A few minutes later and both Eric and Kimo's backpacks were gone. They lost their laptop, an iPad, an iPhone and some other personal items. However, the most devastating loss was our cash - between 6 and 7000€ (approximately $6800-8000), simply gone. Of course they quickly filed with convention security and then the Essen Police. Tracking the electronics has led nowhere and obviously, the cash is long gone.

'We have set up at hundreds of conventions throughout our time in this industry, and this has never happened to us before. The fact that Essen Spiel has no badges to check (only paper tickets), means that when the show is over, there is no 'sweep' to get the non-exhibitors out of the hall,' Eric says. 'Anyone can walk in the building. And anyone can be targeted. I never thought this would happen to us. The office created a false sense of security for our situation, and we felt our bags were safe in there while we were breaking down. We were wrong.'"

Japanime Games is dedicated to bringing you the finest games from Japan and beyond! It's Japanime Games’ goal to import and translate the best games from Asia and bring them to a wider audience. Our games feature some of the finest art that can be found along with engaging gameplay and quality components. For more information about Japanime Games, see JapanimeGames.com


UPDATE: Artipia's Kickstarter recovery effort brought in more than $25k!


"It was Friday, October 26th 2018, a couple of hours before the Essen Spiel fair would close for the day. People were enjoying our games at our booth. Our new game for this year, A Thief's Fortune was well received and there was almost always people waiting for a demo table to open up. Little did we know of the irony that was about to happen... Our cash register containing all the day's earnings was about to get stolen. 

Our cashier mentioned 3 people involved in the theft: Two men, one after the other swarmed our cashier asking questions upon questions to shift his attention from the cash register creating an opening for the third member of their team, who actually stole the entire cash register. At that time our booth was full of people. Thankfully nobody was hurt. 

As soon as our cashier realized there was something wrong with all those meaningless questions he was being asked, he immediately turned his attention back to the cash register but it was already too late. He immediately alarmed the rest of our booth staff and managed to prevent one of the two men from leaving the booth. Security was brought in shortly after and one of our booth assistants called the police who also arrived very quickly. The suspect was carrying a bag that got searched by the police officers. They found a taser gun in it. Unfortunately no money was found since that man's role was only to cause the distraction. The suspect was taken away hand-cuffed by the police. We haven't receive any information or news since then...

Our shock and financial loss left a very sour taste in our mouth. Artipia Games is a family indie game publishing business and the sales we make at the Essen fair play an important role in our survival."

Artipia Games is a board game publisher based in Athens,Greece. In its 7 year life Artipia Games has published several popular titles such as Drum Roll, Among the Stars, Briefcase, Archon: Glory & Machination, Shadows over the Empire, New Dawn, Lap Dance, Project: ELITE, Stellar Conflict, The Pursuit of Happiness, Fields of Green, Kitchen Rush, and Machi Koro - Greek Edition. Artipia Games has also done the design for Dice City and The Masters' Trials, published by AEG. You can visit their website at ArtipiaGames.com.


"This was our third trip to Essen. Each time is hectic, exciting, full of new experiences. It is always awe inspiring to take a nine hour flight, followed by another two hour flight, and bus ride...and find friends in another place on the planet entirely.

That first day we saw so many friends; we had announced what we would bring with us on BGG, so we had the hunters, wanting to get the latest and move on, but we also had dear friends who want to stay and chat, talk about their ideas on what we are doing with Folklore, Champions of Hara, and Of Dreams and Shadows. They were also excited to play Helios Expanse, which was out on the table for most of the show.

It was apparent we were very busy that first day, and that’s probably why we were targeted. In the final half hour of Thursday, we were robbed. We had two money bags that were intended to stay on our person for the show. While one person was ending their shift they had set theirs down behind the counter. In less than 5 minutes, while I was helping another customer, and before I could get to it, it was gone. Approximately $1,000 was taken. I count us as the lucky ones. I had the bag with the larger bills, which I had never taken off. Moreover, I have heard from several other companies, who were hit harder.

This is not to say that what happened wasn’t a hard thing for us. The expense of any convention is a lot, especially when it is arguably the biggest in the world, and on another continent entirely. That money would have been another member of our company flying to the convention, hotel, and food. Moreover, while we filed a police report and heard some people were caught, that money will never be returned to us. When I told people what happened, the most shocking of all was the response “Oh they got you too?” and “Oh not you this time?”

This is an ongoing occurrence. For me that was the most upsetting thing; theft is expected. I have heard several people—and I do agree with them—say we should have kept a better eye on our money. I am angry with myself for that. But the instinct to NOT interrupt a customer is exactly what they were counting on, and it was in a matter of minutes. Moreover, if this is a pattern that happens this often, why haven’t these people been caught? How are they being let back into the convention every year? Sadly I only have questions and no answers."

Greenbrier continues to work with other talented designers to help bring new games to life. Their ongoing desire is to find fun new mechanics that fit with the theme they’re designed for and make the best game they can. From that humble beginning of playing board games around Jeff and Theresa (Gracia)’s kitchen table, Greenbrier Games has evolved into a close group of friends who work tirelessly to keep the original mission alive – make games that they also love to play. Visit them at Greenbrier Games.


"We are shocked to report that thieves targeted our booth at the Spiel Essen yesterday [October 27] managing to get away with all the income generated during the fair.

The incident happened after closing time when the booth was manned by two staff. Taking advantage of a long tiring day, one guy came to us for a small chat while another sneaked behind and stole a trolley containing money, ID documents, credit cards and many other important personal belongings.

We were even more shocked to learn that other publishers were targeted during the day as well as the other days of the fair losing significant amounts of money. I wonder why the Messe Essen or Merz Verlag did not circulate warnings to exhibitors about the situation and why members of the public were free to walk the halls well after the closing time. When speaking to security they showed me at least other 5 offences reported on that day but, apart filling paperwork, I could not see any proactive initiative aimed to protect us exhibitors.

It is inevitable now to think of all the long hours spent preparing our games, organising our booth, of all the sacrifices we pass onto our families so that we can spend one week in Germany to pay respect to our beloved hobby and meet this great community of gamers. This year we made enough to recover our costs and continue with our projects. All taken away in the space of a few minutes. Sad. "

Visit Gotha Games at their website!


"At around 15:00 on Friday 26th a bag of one of our volunteer staff was taken from our stand 4D101 in Hall 4. The bag was a "man-bag" style brown leather bag, and contained our colleague's wallet, travel documents, driving licence, roughly 150 Euro and other personal effects. The bag was taken from the right hand side of our stand, apparently by someone reaching around into the stand and grabbing it. Nobody noticed at the time as the stand was busy and the thief was not seen by anybody.

We first off reported the theft to Messe Essen information desk at the main South entrance. We were given a form to complete for their records and told to go to the Police station nearby and report the theft there. Our colleague went with a German speaking member of our team and filed a report. They received a document from the Police describing the incident and with a registration number showing it was on the Police files.

The biggest problem we had was how to be sure the volunteer could return home to Sofia on the Monday without his ID. We spent a lot of time on the phone with the consular and other authorities, and had two options: there was a slim chance he could fly on the Monday as planned using the Police report as explanation, or he would need to stay until Wednesday by which time his international passport could be couriered to us. In the end, and much to our surprise, he managed to get through security on the Monday with just the paper print from the Police and flew home as planned.

The theft did not have much of a financial impact on us, but it was very unpleasant and cost us a lot of time to deal with. The bag has not been found since and we have no info as to what happened to it. The Messe Essen information staff initially reacted with some sympathy, but then there was a lot of shoulder shrugging and the phrase i have heard a lot since "this always happens at Essen Spiel". The Police were far less interested and did not really pursue the matter in any way at all, which is understandable in our case in a way as they have more important issues to deal with even from Essen Spiel itself. Throughout the whole event i saw many many cases of people accessing the event without tickets, out of hours entry, getting in through the rear car park entrance, etc. Security is there, but it is very random, and people approaching the event in a purposeful manner generally can just walk straight in.

Things i have learned from this experience and from what i have read online since about more serious incidents:

  • Our stand was far too open. We had this concept when we designed it of a kind of open plan shop layout where people could come to choose things from the shelves before paying. In reality people don't come "inside" the stand often, and it just made it easier for thieves to access the back of our front stand. Next year we will have a stand that is more closed, and with limited access to key areas.
  • We need locked storage for staff's personal effects. We did have a cupboard in the stand where the girls had their handbags, but we need more space and to direct staff to always use it.
  • I read a good comment by a German regular at Essen Spiel that he always uses a cash register with holes in the bottom so he can bolt it to the stand itself (he even said he might walk around next year on the Wednesday with a drill and bolts offering to do this for people). This stops the quick grab theft approach, and also prevents staff from moving the register around the stand. We will definitely do this in 2019.

I hope a united front of exhibitors appealing to Messe Essen can make a difference, but my big take-away was that as an exhibitor you really are on your own. Your best defence is to be informed, factor theft into your stand design, and for you and your staff to be vigilant at all times."

Folded Space is here to bring to you board game inserts that are affordable enough to add improved game play and secure storage to many of your favourite games. Visit them at FoldedSpace.net


Merz Verlag reached out to Eric Price at Japanime Games regarding the Facebook postings that have been circulating since the weekend ended, in order to respond to the incidents:

"after the fair closes, visitors have to leave the fairground and [exhibitors] can stay inside one hour after the official opening times. The only exceptions are, if exhibitors have stand parties. In this case the exhibitor will have to hire additional security staff. This ensures that stand party visitors do not walk around inside the exhibition halls, but only at the stand where the stand party takes place.

Most thefts took place during the day of the fair and point to an organized crime.

In your case, the theft happened after the official end of the fair, i.e. during dismantling.

On the last day, after the end of the fair, the staff of the stand builders and suppliers can drive in by car after they have obtained a call number, which is only available for exhibitors and their staff.

In general we have security in all exhibition halls during the day.

At night the fair halls are locked as written above and of course guarded. This means that no one can enter at night.

Next year we will inform the exhibitors that they should empty their cash desks several times a day and keep the money safe.

We also appeal to the exhibitors in the future not to hire cheap stand staff that way that they are partly paid with exhibitor tickets. In many cases the hired staff works for 1 or 2 days and in return these people receive an exhibitor ticket from the exhibitor. This way we all of a sudden have visitors inside the halls at a time where just exhibitors are allowed to be in there. As circumstances changed now we will not tolerate this in the future any longer.

Instead we are working on a system where exhibitors will be able to buy one-day tickets instead of four-day tickets for this kind of staff.

We take this very serious and we will have more security inside the halls next year, but at the end we also have to ask the exhibitors to take care and keep a closer watch to their money."

Eric did respond to this, asking about whether the 'sweep' of the floor at the end of the day included checking tickets, since he has never been asked for his ticket in order to verify that he is an exhibitor, allowed to be on the floor after-hours. 

Merz Verlag again returned the email, saying, "The security patrols through the halls after the fair closes and requests the visitors to leave, they are also asking to see exhibitor tickets to ensure that only authorized people are staying inside. This is done at SPIEL each year for years now, but we will question this again in detail in order to be sure, because this year the security contractor changed.

On Sunday, at 6 pm, the dismantling starts immediately and the big gates open for the vehicles to enter. Numerous of workers and contractors from external companies have to enter the fair and of course then it is very difficult to control everybody, but this is a common dismantling situation on every show, at least in Germany. 

Additionally, Eric had been told that they had 200 plainclothes security personnel on hand during fair hours. After discussing this, he questioned the choice to have no visible security officers, only undercover in plainclothes. He had said, "I believe that having unmarked security is not as helpful as having security in some kind of marked clothing. I’m assuming that your reasoning for having unmarked, or undercover, security is so that people will not know when they are being watched. However, this also gives the impression that nobody is watching at all. I feel that if 200 people are walking the hall in marked clothing, it would give the impression that it is not as easy of a place to be stealing, and thieves would perhaps not be as brazen with their efforts. Also, when a theft occurs, it would be much easier to locate a security person to report the theft right away"

The response from Merz Verlag: "At the moment we are also discussing a more mixed form of marked and unmarked security, because marked security only will not help..." 

This is an ongoing conversation with Merz Verlag, as they are interested in improving the situation. We are glad to see that they are listening and hope to see changes made for Essen SPIEL 2019 to prevent these wide-spread losses and make the entire game fair a safer place for the companies exhibiting as well as the attendees. If anyone would like to be involved in the conversation, please go to this Facebook thread to participate.