June 1st – 3rd saw the 12th annual UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC. This was the third time the event has been held in this venue, having moved there in 2016. This year the Expo was spread across Hall 1 & Hall 2 of the NEC, as well as several rooms in the NEC Hilton hotel (which was where all the Role-Playing events took place)
The event was bigger than ever, seeing 39,000 visitors in the course of 3 days. It’s a far cry from the days in the Clarendon Suites – in visitor numbers alone, the event has grown to be over 30 times the size of when it was first held in 2007.
It wasn’t just visitors – there were more exhibitors than ever before – not only the big names such as Asmodee and Days of Wonder, but lots of smaller companies as well. As in previous years, the show had a ‘try before you buy’ culture, with almost every company having demos available of their games.
The event seemed to follow a similar pattern to last year – Friday and Sunday, though busy, were quiet enough that you could generally get a game of something without having to wait too long, although some games – such as Solomon Kane and U-Boot – were pretty much rammed all weekend. Saturday was by far the busiest day, so this was a day for browsing through the show and chatting to people, and grabbing the odd game when you could.
For the first time, I was accompanied by my fellow podcast presenters for more than a single day of the show. Our aim was to play some new games, catch up with some older ones that we may have missed, and generally wander around and see what caught our eye. It was also a chance to catch up with listeners, as we had arranged to meet up on each day – it was great to chat with Luke, Richard, Paul, Shawn, Nick, Mike and Frank amongst others.
There seemed to be a great positive buzz about the event, and it was great to see a wide and varied demographic of visitor – which illustrates what a wide appeal the tabletop gaming hobby has.
Aim of the day was to meet up with everyone and play some games, and then wander around and see what was on offer at the show.
Managed to play four games during the day – for some reason we kept coming back to the Pegasus Speile stand…
Istanbul & Istanbul the Dice Game – not one, but two games with a trading theme. Aim is very simple – trade goods, gain money. buy gems. However, both games had some very interesting mechanics and were great fun. They must have been good, as the Great Guru bought both of them straight away!
Port Royal – a lighter push-your-luck card game. Recruit crew to your ship in order to have the correct skills to complete expeditions, and thus gain victory points. Not bad, but I wouldn’t rush to play again.
Sheep & Thief – A tile laying game with a drafting mechanic. Build roads and rivers whilst at the same time gathering your sheep and herding them towards the safety of the sheep pens – watch out for the foxes. Charming cartoon illustrations disguise a game that has more strategy than meets the eye. Would happily play again, but not one to buy.
As expected, Saturday was much busier, so we grabbed games where we could, and otherwise toured the show to see the stands we hadn’t found the day before.
Orbis – A game that has yet to be released. Tile laying, resource management game, where you are building a kingdom. Each area gives you different resources, and many tiles give you victory points if you can surround them with the correct tile colour combinations. Interesting, and I would happily play it again – not sure if I would buy it.
Colt Express – several years since I had played this game, and wanted to show it to everyone else. You are cowboys robbing a train, trying to gain more loot than everyone else whilst avoiding the sherrif – programmed movement mechanic means that your turn doesn’t always go the way you had played. This game is a huge amount of fun, and we had a huge amount of fun playing it. This has been added to my purchase list.
Sub Terra – One of the big hits of the show from last year. Co-operative tile-laying game where players have to find an escape route from where they are trapped underground, using each individuals special skills. It was interesting, but I really wanted to like it more than I did. In the end, not one I would buy.
Rail Raiders Infinite – The latest offering from Ninja Division. This time, Chibi Space Cowboys. Rob the space train, fight the robot deputies, get more cash than everyone else. Having loved both Super Dungeon Explore and Ninja All-Stars, I was massively disappointed by this game. Though the combat mechanic is wonderfully thematic (you roll custom dice to make the best poker hand) there just isn’t enough of a game otherwise – running up and down a train shooting law robots is incredibly limited once you have done it a couple of times, especially since the game has a hefty price tag. Yes, it has very nice miniatures, but one to miss.
We retired early from the show on Saturday, as we had planned to meet up for a curry in the evening.
Taking my cue from last year, I decided that the first thing to do on Sunday morning was to identify one game that you really wanted to play and get there first.
Escape From Dark Castle – A cooperative fantasy adventure game. Players work together as characters escaping from the dungeon of the Dark Castle. Move through 15 encounters, defeat a boss and if you all survive, you win the game. Wonderful artwork combines with interesting gameplay for a tense adventure game. Really good game. A Kickstarter for new expansions is running at the moment.
Conquest – New Fantasy Mass Battle game from Para Bellum. Lovely looking miniatures, innovative command phase and interesting combat mechanics are ruined by the decision not to make close combat simultaneous. Victory in close combat to whoever wins the initiative at the start of the turn.
Firefly Adventures: Brigands & Browncoats – the second game from Gale Force Nine based on the ‘Firefly’ IP. This is a scenario led miniature skirmish game. Some interesting mechanics around turn order, along with some nice looking miniatures. The game itself seems a little average, and relies very heavily on players being invested in the central IP. If you are a fan of the series, you will more than likely enjoy it. If you’re not, probably one to avoid.
Sunday ended with a final browse around the stalls, just to check if there were any end-of-show bargains to be had.
Considering the amount of boardgames at the show, my purchases were remarkably miniatures orientated, though this was somewhat driven, in almost all cases, by necessity due to impending cessation of manufacture.
3 ships for X-Wing (Y-Wing, TIE Punisher and Lambda Shuttle), Gangs of Rome ‘Blood on the Aventine’ Starter set, resin terrain from Oathsworn miniatures, a deck box and a leather dice cup. The X-Wing ships are shortly to be removed from sale due to 2nd Edition, The GOR starter set is only likely to be in print until the middle of July. Once the print run is sold out, it will be replaced by a new, different starter set. Oathsworn are ceasing production of their resin terrain – the UK Games Expo would likely be the last chance to purchase these at a show.
The UK Games Expo is, in my opinion, the best gaming show in the UK calendar. There is a huge amount to see and do, and in my time attending the shows I have only just scratched the surface of what is available – I fully intend to take advantage of a role-playing session, plus look at some of the seminars and entertainment in future years.
The event is now of such a size that even two days at the show will find you struggling to see everything in the trade halls, so coming for two or three days is almost essential. Though hotel space for the event is at a premium, and hard to find unless you book well in advance, the transport links into the NEC by road, rail and air are such that it is an easy venue to commute to.
Congratulations to the whole UK Games Expo team for staging this event – the dream of having the UK’s premier gaming convention has been well and truly achieved.