Enlarge / Behold the craziness of Essen… (credit: Owen Duffy) Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

Every October, the German city of Essen becomes the epicenter of tabletop gaming geekdom.

Tens of thousands of visitors descend on the International Spieltage fair, where publishers from around the world debut their up-and-coming releases over four frantic days of dice chucking, card shuffling, and cube pushing.
For gamers, it’s an enthralling, bewildering, almost intimidating spectacle. Where gaming events in other countries, like Gen Con in the US or the UK Games Expo, incorporate celebrity guests, panel discussions, and side attractions, Essen is focused squarely on the games—everything from light and fluffy family favourites to impenetrable brain-melters.
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