Friday 15 June 2018

Review: UK Games Expo 2018

Not only is the UK Games Expo over for another year, but it's been almost two weeks, and it's flown by! With more lovely people, more fun things to see and more games than you could shake an oversized meeple at, this year's Expo was bigger and better than ever (21,700 attendees, up 30% on last year!).

If you've not been along to UKGE before, you can find my original post here for some background information. It's a fun, friendly convention held every year at the NEC in Birmingham, rambling (in a very organised fashion) across multiple convention halls, function rooms and surrounding hotels. There's something there for every analogue gaming enthusiast, whether you're looking for the latest heavy Euro game, the coolest wargame miniatures, the cutest kids game or the dice-rolliest (yes, we're making up our own superlative adjectives now) pen-and-paper RPG.

With so much to see and do it can be pretty tough to get round and see everything, even if you've tried to formulate a bit of a plan beforehand. I definitely didn't play as many games as i wanted to, or see all the shows I would have liked, but unless I'm presented with a complimentary TARDIS to go with any potential press pass next year there's always going to be that amazing 'problem' of having too much to choose from!

Luckily I get to cheat a little bit by getting a head start at the Thursday evening press preview. This was a great chance to talk to designers and publishers about their games before hitting the show floor for longer demos over the weekend.

I've written about all the games I talked through, coo'ed over, tried out or brought home in a separate post, as this one was getting ridiculously long, but with over 375 exhibitors at UKGE this year suffice it to say there were many, many new shiny games to investigate and I don't feel like I even made a dent in what there was to offer!

[Go to the games post]

After the press preview a big chunk of official open gaming space made available in the second NEC hall, for all the other enthusiastic early arrivals. The bring-and-buy area was also open for check-in, which was a huge relief as it meant I could take along the victims of my ruthless shelf-cull to meet their new owners (for a small fee, of course!) without the worry of using valuable Expo-time to queue on Friday. There was still a queue, of course, but everything was very well organised. The Expo uses a computerised system for checking in your games, so when you get to the front of the queue it's just a case of telling them your name to get your strip of labels. Stick, stack and go!

Checking unsold games out is a bit more of an ordeal, as you have to go and retrieve them from the *huge* bring-and-buy area yourself. It's not the funnest thing to do when you're tired out at the end of the weekend, but I tend to think of that as my own fault for having overpriced anything that's left over. An additional incentive to be realistic with your pricing!

A small charge (£1 per 10 items) is made for putting items into the bring-and-buy, with a 10% commission taken on all sales, with all profits going to the UK Games Expo's charities of choice. This year they are supporting Birmingham Mind and Beanstalk, so as well as trading your games you're also helping brilliant causes.

Entry tickets can also be collected on Thursday too, which is really helpful if you're around early and don't want to join the substantial morning ticket queues!

Having made space in the collection with bring-and-buy drop offs, there are plenty of opportunities at the Expo to fill your shelves up again with shiny new games. If I'm shopping for specific games I try to get that out of the way early on Friday so that I can store them away in the hotel and continue my day bag-free. This rarely works out as I see something else that's shiny (plus I'm always lugging the camera!), but there's a shop-and-drop storage facility if you need it where you can rent a box for the day. The shopping choices at UKGE are epic, with hundreds of stands filled with friendly people ready to sell you some cardboard (or a Kickstarter pledge - lots of those!). It's definitely worth shopping around a bit, though, as prices can vary between stores by something like £5 a game, which soon adds up if you're buying a few things. If you have the time (and energy!) to look around, take it.

Having said that, if there's a 'new hot game' of the Expo it can sell out pretty fast, so my first stop was at the Gameslore stand to grab a copy of Century: Eastern Wonders. Century: Spice Road was hugely popular last year and I didn't want to miss out in the initial rush for the sequel, but I'm avoiding looking at how much it costs elsewhere so that I won't find out what my panic cost me!

There was plenty of scope to try before you buy for a lot of games, with large demonstration areas staffed by friendly experts who will distil the rules down for you and get you playing in no time. Or if you're feeling really modern, at the Dized stand you can even learn games from a tablet! Their app (currently in development) takes you through setting up a game and feeds you the rules as you play, meaning you can just sit down at the table and go. It wasn't exactly hitch free when we tried out the system with Blood Rage, but from a standing start the fact that we were playing in a few minutes was really great. You can find more information on Dized at their website and it's due for general release in Autumn.

I also spent some time this year at the Family Zone run by Imagination Gaming, as at three years old my son is finally starting to expand his own games collection. They were really knowledgeable about children's games and kindly took time to explain which ones would be suitable and the benefits of each. I may have come away with a couple more to add to his cubes of the gaming shelves...

It's not just games for sale at UKGE, though. I'm super jealous that Piete and Pam got to order their amazing new gaming table at the show, courtesy of Geeknson who make beautiful, practical and customisable gaming tables.

Or sometimes, really random cool ones that happen to fit their booth theme!

Awesome artists like Jenefer Ham and her Gamer Glass stand offered a chance to pick up some unique gaming accessories. These adorable 'mooples' were made especially for UKGE to match the Wild West theme of the Geeknson area where her stand was located (plus cat, because, well, cats!).

Meeting Jen and her husband Richard (Rahdo) Ham was one of my real Expo highlights. I love their work and the podcast that they put together is essential listening for me, although it feels really odd to meet people you've laughed and cried with over the years when they have absolutely no reason to know who you are! I bought way too many things from the Gamer Glass stand, but these are people I'm more than happy to support, and I have shiny new meeple accessories that I love. [Rahdo's Patreon - Jen's Etsy store]

On Friday night I headed to one of the many panels and seminars run over the course of the weekend. This particular one was a live recording of the Gaming Rules! podcast, featuring Paul Grogan, Edward Uhler of Heavy Cardboard, Matt Evans from Creaking Shelves and Tom Heath of Slicker Drips. Apologies for the photos taken with a zoom in the dark!!

Simon Cutforth received his Heavy Cardboard 2016 Golden Elephant Award for 1822: The Railways of Great Britain:

It was great to hear everyone's highlights of the weekend so far, as well as learn how to definitely not pronounce Teotihuacan...

Sadly I didn't manage to fit in any of the other live entertainment events this year, but all my favourites of previous years were on the slate, including Pandemic Live, Knightmare Live, and The Dark Room. You can read more about them in last year's post, and I'd thoroughly recommend any of them if you can squeeze the time into your schedule! There are always the Viking and Orc camps to visit as you wander around the lake, too. Here are some brave Vikings, about to be beaten up by a horde of marauding children:

Having discovered the loss of the early entry powers that came with last year's press pass on Friday, we choose to skip the morning queues for the rest of the Expo and have a game in the hotel after breakfast before heading around the lake to the NEC. The rest of the time was filled pretty solidly with demos and gaming that you can read more about in my dedicated post.

Saturday was capped off with the epic charity raffle organised by Gaming Rules! and co-hosted by Edward from Heavy Cardboard. I was on co-photography duty that day, so there are plenty of snaps to show for a fantastic event that raised over £2,700 for the chosen UKGE charities.

In it's second year now, this event has exploded in scale and it makes me so happy to see how generous the exhibitors are with their prize donations. I was far less happy with my luck, however - I am some kind of raffle jinx, and somewhere in here are all my losing tickets!

This was further proved by my failure to win anything in the Gamer Glass raffle on Sunday - cursed, I tell you...

So, that was a little extract of my 2018 trip to the UK Games Expo! Thanks to everyone involved in organising the event, especially the kind people that generously volunteer their time to help out over the weekend and make it so fun. Fingers crossed that I can find an affordable way of attending next year, although with climbing hotel prices that's looking less and less likely. There are plenty of cheaper places to stay if you're willing to travel, but staying on site is where I feel safest and happiest, so with the Hilton where I've historically stayed now topping £260 a night I'm not sure what to do. We shall see what the next year brings!

[Onwards to the games post]

If you enjoyed this post perhaps you could take a look at my Facebook page and leave a like or come and say hello on my Twitter or Instagram feeds!