Hi folks! Little bit of an odd one this week, but I thought it would be worthwhile taking a break from the normal reviews to add a little bit on my experience of UK Games Expo this year – comparable to last year’s posts on Essen.
UK Games Expo is one of the top five conventions in board gaming but is much smaller than the big three of Essen (Germany) , Origins (US) and GenCon (US). The event this year had about 32,000 visitors and whilst that sounds a lot, with only 16,000 unique ticket holders over the three days it is crowded. The event happens in Birmingham at the NEC – which is near the airport there. With a train station and plenty of hotels nearby this is a great location to bring in such a large and international crowd.
The event is held across the first two halls of the NEC – large open spaces broken down into little market like streets by the stalls of the individual games companies which are exhibiting there. That could be giants like Asmodee or CMON, but in Hall 2 the stands are frequently small independent publishers (like Slight Games where I was for the weekend!).
Of all the conventions this is probably the most balanced convention between retail and publishers. Where in Essen the publishers are typically selling directly and the retail is kept to second hand / smaller stands mainly around the edge, in UKGE there are major UK retailers such as Chaos Cards and Thirsty Meeples with large stands right in the centre of Hall 1. The traffic and volume these stores get is significant and there are clearly a number of people at UKGE seeking out new games or to buy the latest hotness.
One of the reasons I guess this mix differs from other expos is that the major publishers don’t tend to launch games at UKGE. Without the large pull of the top three cons and the fact that Origins is only one week later, it makes sense to hold back releases for bigger market conventions. This makes space then at UKGE for large open play areas and sections of the hall that stay open until midnight. Even as a new member of the hobby going alone, you could find yourself and group and get stuck into a game – anything from 1822-CA through to Roll Player. If that appeals, but the convention centre gets overcrowded, the near by Hilton throws open its doors for more gaming until 2am! Quite the set up for gamers who have traveled a long distance to enjoy the convention.
The other thing to note about the stands is that you will see a fair number of kickstarters. With only two Halls, and UKGE being at a point in the calendar where September Kickstarters have prototypes already, there is a good mix of new games from small publishers readily available and easy to find. Unlike Essens Halls 7+, these exhibitors are nearer the action and can still be quite crowded the whole weekend.
This is where I was; a small new game – Snicth. It’s a fun fast paced card game which brings to life the classic game theory of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Will you co-operate or betray in each round; the benefit from betraying being significant, but if all betray you get nothing! Running the stand is exhausting and I was grateful to have a couple of mates with me during the weekend to allow for coffee breaks and the occasional walk around the convention centre. The expo was a great event for us, with lots of nice feedback and lots of people enthusiastic about the game.
During those little breaks I also managed to meet a few of the reviewers and podcasters who make up the board game industry – Tom Vassel, Luke Hector (Broken Meeple), the Shut Up and Sit Down team and a few other well know written bloggers. It’s great to see how nice all these people are and how generous they are with their time. It’s a relaxed con and they definitely seem to get the chance to enjoy the experience and talk to lots of fans.
So what were the games of the convention? Well Spirit Island was clearly the top. It was hard to get a copy by day two and it was constantly being discussed by all there. The game had launched earlier in the year but had not got much distribution yet in the UK. If you were quick you could get the base game, expansion and promo from the publisher but it was only there until about the end of Day 2. I picked up a copy and shall definitely be adding a review of that soon (having played it lots!). This little artistic and thematic co-op really gives an exciting story arc to the game as your character builds in power and tries to turn the tied against the invaders on the island.
The other game being talked about, played but not yet available for purchase was The Mind. I had fortunately played this coming into UKGE and it is a fantastic but peculiar game of playing cards in order between a group. Tricky to co-ordinate and with potential to create lots of laughs, this game requires players to get into sync as they lay the cards down.
Overall it was an incredible weekend; exhausting but fun. Running the stand was tough, but everyone was so nice and there was so much time for gaming after the convention doors shut. If you are UK based, then this is definitely worth a visit next year!