Friday, 9 March 2018

All-inclusive Relaxation

After snow in Spain I wasn’t expecting any sunshine in Portugal either. Weather forecast promised constant rain and heavy wind for the whole weekend. In this case, it was just one more good reason to stay indoors and play board games. That’s what LeiriaCon is all about.
Me and Paulo.

Because of the broken car we had to quickly do changes for the weekend. We emailed Paulo, one of the organisers of LeiriaCon, that we would need accommodation instead of a big parking place. I packed clothes for all of us, but It was a bit tricky because we only have one small suitcase with us. Väinö packed his stuff to his school bag.

We checked the fridge and emptied the trash bin of our caravan and moved game boxes from our car to the rental car. It was Thursday morning, LeiriaCon was starting in Portugal, and we had 800 kilometers to drive. Nevertheless, without the caravan, we should make it there for the evening.

Fire & Water

The rental car was also a VW van, but it lacked many of the nice features we had installed to our car - like navigator. Fortunately we have a good navigation app downloaded to Timo’s phone. Only tricky part during the way was the Portuguese road toll system. I highly recommend travellers to check different payment options beforehand.

When we were closing Leiria, the scenery turned spooky. We were driving thru the areas that had large forest fires in 2017. Black, charred trees stood silently on both sides of the road. In the heavy rain we were driving, it was difficult to imagine the draught and hotness there must have been just a bit over half a year ago.

All of a sudden the Atlantic ocean was again in front of us. High, whitecap waves crashed to a long beach. Wind was gathering small dynes of sand to a sidewalk. Right there, by the beach, was the Hotel Cristal Vieira Resort Praia & Spa where LeiriaCon was held.

Dress Code: Lipstick

Starters, main course and deserts. Drinks included. I love LeiriaCon!
We made it just in time for dinner. Unlike in normal fairs and many other conventions, in LeiriaCon you can get all-inclusive participation: accommodation, all meals and 24 hours in a day for board gaming. What an excellent concept and very welcome change for fair days without any food!

We carried our stuff to the hotel room and I wanted to quickly change clothes. I was still wearing the same outfit I had dressed for yesterday’s driving day: comfy, grey college pants, long woollen socks (it was so cold!) and sweatshirt. I unpacked from the small suitcase a new shirt and trousers for Timo, clean shirt and socks for me and… well, that was it. Several shirts, socks and underwear, but NO trousers for me.

I clearly remembered thinking of packing my jeans. But obviously that thought was never accomplished. I’m sure at least all female readers can imagine my feelings at that moment. Timo comforted me: “Come on, this is a relaxed convention for board game nerds, nobody cares what you are wearing.” There was nothing I could do for the situation, so I just combed my hair, put on some lipstick and went for a dinner.

Friends For Life and Laundry

Frank, Mauro and another game I liked and lost.
They liked Darwinning! I'm sure you will, too. Pledge now!
The rainy days of LeiriaCon were filled with good food (especially the deserts…), nice people and hours of board games. We, of course, played Darwinning with many Portuguese groups and promoted our Kickstarter campaign, but we had time to test other games also. Väinö learned to play Ex Libris with Inka and Markus Brand. Yet another proof of his much improved English skills. Sven and Frank from Happyshops had several prototypes with them. I enjoyed playing all of them, even though I lost most of my games. This was the first time I had a chance to give feedback of other designers games and give ideas for the future development.

The atmosphere was really relaxed and positive. Nobody mentioned my grey college pants. Nevertheless, on Friday after siesta I sneaked out to the quiet, rainy beach village to look for a clothing store. Most of the stores were closed due the low season, but I found one store with handcrafts and clothes. There were only one type of trousers available: black college pants. I bought those and knitting needles for Väinö. He must knit mittens for school and I forgot to take the needles from home.

Early Sunday evening, when the event was about to end and I had lost two rounds of Azul, I took an hour of my own time. The spa offered a relaxation massage, and after all the events of previous weeks I really needed one. I also needed some quietness and time alone. During the past month and a half that we have been on tour, I have met more people than I usually meet during a whole year. I have seen three oceans and climbed higher than I have ever been. There have been moments and experiences I will never forget.

This tour is also about networking. I have got many new Facebook and LinkedIn contacts. But what I really liked about LeiriaCon, is that there you can really get to KNOW new people. It is not only changing business cards.

How do you know you have made new friends? Well, they invite you for a visit and offer to loan their washing machine.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Palm Trees and Snowflakes

I woke up because Timo was moving in the caravan and checking our heating system. I crawled out of under my warm cover and noticed that the caravan was chilly. We had run out of gas during the night. Luckily we had bought another bottle just before we left the Alps.

Timo changed the bottle, but we couldn’t get the heating working. We had bought butane instead of propane. We learned that the heating system couldn’t use butane – and that butane does not like the minus temperatures there had been during the night.

”OK, so no heating. How is the tire?” I asked Timo.
”It’s flat.”
”What a lovely morning.”
The Cannes Game Fair was about to start in 5 hours at 200 kilometers away from us.

Mr. Murphy On Our Tour

At the Alps someone had broke the left side mirror of our car on a parking lot. Local car repair managed to change that. While we drove south from the Alps I googled for solar panel repair services, because the charger of that system had stopped working. I found a good place and we spent 7 hours there. We drove until midnight. When we parked for a night, we heard hissing sound from one the caravans tires.

Now the tire was totally flat. Luckily we had stopped at a service station, so we were able to fill up the tire. We drove 6 kilometers and stopped to check the tire. Still round, let’s continue to the closest tire repair. Yet another interesting googling task for me.

I have got the feeling Mr. Murphy is traveling with us. Or then we are just extremely lucky, because so far we have managed to solve every problem there has been. After we got to the repair place, the flat tire was fixed in less than 30 minutes. There was a screw in it. We got our car in a camping place and arrived to the fair only two hours delayed.

French Forms And Families

Cannes International Game Fair is a big event with over 100 000 visitors. In this case ”international” means ”French”. There where some foreign exhibitors, but most of the information is available in French only. Where Nuremberg fair failed to tell what all information they needed, Cannes fair had a good web-portal with deadlines and forms to fill in. Only in French.

I needed to sign a paper for that somebody can else can work and build up our booth. I entered the birthdays of all our exhibitors to the portal. No complaints about Väinö’s age. Even during the check-in I was reminded of one form, which was ”really important, must be at your booth all the time, show this when somebody asks”. When I asked what it was about and what I needed to fill in, the check-in lady couldn’t answer. So I kept the paper safe and threw it to the trash bin on Sunday.

Many families visited our booth and played Darwinning. Väinö has learned to teach the game in English. Sebastien, one of our translators, was presenting the games in French. I also found out the we have exceptional fans: Matthieu, one happy owner of Perdition’s Mouth, stayed at our booth several hours just explaining the game in French to others.

As usual, I didn’t have much time to look around other booths. But I happened to notice one interesting game: it was called Finnish pool. Combination of pool and Finnish outdoor game Mölkky.

Detour To The Top

The morning we left Cannes it was snowing. A lot. It was weird to look at palm trees and snowflakes at the same time. We had a long drive ahead: LeiriaCon was starting on Thursday in Portugal. We had one stop at a parking lot under the oak trees and next day a booked camping place near San Sebastian in Spain.

We were driving the road N-634 along the coast of Atlantic ocean. It was less that 10 kilometers to the camping place. The road was blocked. Stones – or actually a part of a cliff – on the road. There was a sign to a detour. The scariest detour I have ever been. Going up and down on very a narrow, curvy mountain road. The type we were hoping to avoid on this trip.

Even the camping area was located on top of a steep hill. Not the most practical location, but the view was magnificent. At the reception I told about our long and difficult drive and snow in Cannes. The lady in reception was very understanding and told the forecast promised snow in the area for tomorrow. Snow!? And we were in Spain.

When the Winter Came

Do you know Douglas Adams’ book ”The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul”? There is a truck driver, a kind of a rain god, forced to drive in constant rain. I started to feel we have a similar curse with snow. In the morning everything was white. From forecasts we found out there was a snowy front between San Sebastian and Cannes. The worst part of weather was around us.

We decided to wait two hours. Temperature would go higher, roads to be cleaned – or at least some of the snow could have melted by then. We had a proper shovel with us and Väinö cleaned the roads and stairs at the camping area.

Even though there were not many other camping wagons, we didn’t have much space to turn our caravan. I have already learned the camping areas are not designed for the largest vehicles. The front wheels of our car dropped to a slippery ditch. The engine howled. For a moment a though we would never get out. But eventually we did get out and to the motorway.

The engine didn’t sound healthy. After some driving we were barely moving. We managed to get our combination away from the motorway and stopped on a road side. We have been for years members of The Automobile and Touring Club of Finland (ATCF). I phoned to their emergency number.

Within an hour a towing car came to get our car. It would take much longer for them to organise towing for the caravan thou. Whole Spain was in chaos because of the snow. Towing cars were busy. Timo went with the car, Väinö and I stayed in the caravan. A security woman from the close by industry area stopped to ask if we need anything. I told we are fine, but would have to wait for many hours.

It had started to rain. Hard wind was shaking the caravan. It was chilly. We couldn’t put much heating on, because the gas was running low. Fortunately we had still our winter jackets.

”Now we would have time to play Darwinning!” Väinö said. ”I could teach you the two player rules.” What a clever boy!

PS. We played Darwinning and made dinner while waiting. Eventually we got the car to repair and caravan to a safe place. We were accommodated to a hotel. ATCF phoned the next day to check everything was fine. Everything was fine, we were on our way to Portugal – but that’s another story.

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!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Police and MacGyver

Duck tape did not solve the problem.
We parked our car and trailer on the roadside, in Kiel. It was time to say goodbye to Nikolas and his wife Flora, have a cup of coffee in their apartment, and move on. We had found out that we have to be Nuremberg a day earlier than we thought, so we had a lot driving to do. As usual, we checked the caravan and the car. This time around, annoyingly, we found that everything was not OK: the cable that connects our caravan to the car was damaged, badly. It is too long and part of it had dragged on the ground, so part of it has just disappeared. Not good. The lights in the caravan still work, so we’ve decided we can still go on. After our coffee.

Sleepless on a motorway

We drove several hours after the coffee I got in a Moomin mug (Oh, how much I miss my Moomin mugs…), eating a Döner on our way. Around 8pm, somewhere on autobahn number 2, we turned to a “rastplatz”. Germany is full of good parking places by the road, some of them even have toilets and places to cook. There are usually many trucks - I think this is the only way to tell if the place is any good. Our parking place had no facilities but we just needed a place to sleep.

Our heater didn’t work. The temperature in the caravan was 13°c and the night was going to be cold. Timo checked the batteries. They were ok. We still had gas but not that much. Had the damaged cable had any effect? We had no idea. I was ready to sleep under extra blankets, but Timo wanted to find a new gas bottle  - or a place with electricity. So we started up again, Väinö half asleep on the back seat. Half of the lights on the caravan were out, and of course it was raining.

We stopped at three different gas stations with no help. I tried to Google all possible locations that might be helpful. We took a turn into a caravan site, just to find out it was not open. I was getting desperate. Right then we spotted a police car. In a dark and otherwise empty parking-lot of an Aldi supermarket.

Police inspection

We drove up next to the police car and I went to talk. The policeman on the driver’s seat opened the window and I found out I was disturbing their evening meal  - Döner, of course. The police officer talked rather good english and suggested we should go to a gas station near by. That place had a huge parking space for trucks, and it was open 24/7.

We drove to the gas station and Timo went to ask for gas, electricity or any kind of help. Soon I noticed that the police car had driven to the same station. Perhaps they had noticed the illegal lighting - or lack of it - on our caravan, perhaps they were just friendly or had nothing else to do. They came to check that we got help.

With help translating from the police officers, we managed to buy a new gas bottle. While Timo was installing it, I showed the caravan to the officers. Because they asked, and you don’t say no to a policeman. “It is soooo big!”, they said. I’m sure they had a memorable night shift.

My darling MacGyver

The new gas bottle did not help with the heating, though. It was way past 10pm. I was exhausted. Timo checked all possible components with a multimeter. If you go on the road for a year, you MUST have a multimeter. And some knowledge of how to use it. We also have the manual for our heating system. With their help, Timo discovered that a fuse in the heater was out. A tiny little tube of glass.

Fortunately the gas station sold glass fuses. With that little piece, the machine started. We had heating!

At half past eleven we were able to go to bed. On a parking-lot of the gas station. A noisy motorway next to us. At least it was warm. And we were in our own beds.

The only downer was that I had lost my tablet. The one where I read my morning paper and nice book in the evenings with the Kindle app. I hadn’t used it during the day. We searched everywhere. The only strangers we had in the caravan were the police officers. I don’t think they took it. It is just misplaced.

I downloaded the Kindle app and our family library to my phone. One chapter of wizard Dresden’s adventures (Butcher’s Dresden files, highly recommend)  was exactly what I needed after a day like this. His life is also quite messy. But he doesn’t have foreign police officers as friends, and a clone of MacGyver as a husband.