Friday 15 June 2018

UK Games Expo 2018 - Gaming Highlights

It goes without saying that seeing friends is always a huge Expo highlight, even though with more and more people getting into the hobby it's getting harder to see everyone enough over the weekend! We're all there to see the games, too, and below is a selection of games that I played or talked about over the weekend. For an overview of the rest of the show, you can see my first Expo post (yes, I've gone on about it enough to fill up two whole posts!)


After really enjoying Pocket Mars last year, quite a few of games on my to-see list for the weekend were at the Board&Dice stand:

Escape Tales: The Awakening

A father fights to save his daughter from a mysterious coma, relying on our wit and problem-solving ability to guide him through his ordeal. Uh oh...

I reeeally enjoyed Escape Tales. Designer Matt Dembek was kind enough to give us a demonstration of where the game is so far - after taking us on an epic journey around both show halls to find somewhere to sit, which I'm assured won't be a standard part of the game experience!

Escape room games like Exit or Unlock are high up on my list of favourite things to play, and Escape Tales feels like a natural next-step combination of the two. The puzzles were fun and clever, and the game has an app-driven results system similar to Unlock, but without the stressful timed element so you can really take your time to enjoy the story. Obviously that hinges on whether or not the story is any good, but I'd definitely be willing to play a ton more of this to find out.

Oh and this is what our puzzle-solving ability reduced Matt to:

5 Minute Chase

5 Minute Chase is a simple little real-time tile placement game where you're split into two teams: escaped convicts and the detectives charged with catching them. In practical terms the escapees are trying to do a puzzle connecting the correct types of roads, locating special tiles before ultimately escaping to their hideout. Meanwhile the detectives are doing a different counting and symbol matching puzzle to place the correct symbol token on each tile placed by the runners. If the runners don't place a new road tile before the detectives place a symbol on the last piece of road, they're caught.

Quick, chaotic, loved it. I really enjoyed the puzzle of this game; we had tons of laughs running away, even if I'm awful at finding the right tiles. Some rounds were short enough that I didn't manage to place a single tile, which is pretty tragic, but others had us building a sprawling roadway across the table in our (still failed) escape attempt.


I've opened up my shiny new copy of InBetween to go through the rules, and this two-player tug of war between dimensions looks beautiful - or as beautiful as a horror-themed game can be! In a very Stranger Things-like way, players fight for control of people living in the town of Upsideville, using asymmetric decks of cards to adjust safety markers and edge characters closer to their own dimensions.

Hopefully I can get this played soon and let you know my thoughts!

Alleycat Games

There were so many great designers and publishers at the Expo, but it was brilliant to meet and chat to Caezar and Kuly of Alleycat Games (and completely intrude on their nice quiet breakfast!). Aside from being lovely, friendly people and sharing my love of cats (I found the one other person that owns Cat Town) they also have a ton of great designs coming through their pipeline and it's so interesting to watch their business grow from afar.

Dice Hospital

This is a worker placement and dice manipulation game where you run a little hexagon-based hospital. The dice are your patients, and you treat them by raising their value to a healthy six in the most efficient way possible.

I finally got to play Dice Hospital after staring longingly at the always-full demo tables at last year's Expo. I really enjoyed it and I'm very excited to receive my copy now. I'm mortified that I didn't go for the amazing deluxe version with fancy 3D ambulances, though, because these look brilliant!

Chocolate Factory

Chocolate Factory was one of the games I was most excited about on my preview list, and I didn't manage to fit it in! A lesson for next time to see if I can book a demo beforehand. The closest I got was a quick photo while demoing a different game, and you can't see much yet as the artwork is still in progress, but my hopes remain high after other people's feedback.

You can check out the rules in development on

Coral Islands

Another game in development that I was excited to try out was Coral Islands, where we played divers repopulating a coral reef. The dice are the coral, and we get points for making particular shapes with our placements as we stack them up in a colourful tower.

The game looks absolutely beautiful on the table and I found it fun to play and easy to learn, but since you can only use each die in a shape once we found it quite difficult to tell which ones were already used. Coral Islands is still in development, so it will be interesting to see if/how this is addressed going forward as it feels a bit fiddly in its current form - I have every faith in Alleycat to fix anything they're in any way not happy with!

Stuff by Bez

It was great to see Bez again and add another contribution to her wall of cats, which is becoming a convention staple. Bez's stand is always a place of joy and imagination where you can guarantee people will be smiling!


I finally got to try a couple of games from the Wibbell++ game system, including Wibbell itself and also Grabbell.

I had a great time playing these, despite how short all my words ended up being when given so much scope - I need more practise! I love the infinite possibilities packed into this little box of lettered cards, and look forward to trying the other games included in the rules, as well as seeing what the new games released each year for the system will bring.

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger (Z-Man Games)

This game does exactly what it says on the tin - it's the 'I'll keep my thumb in this page just in case and peek ahead' book series from my childhood, but in game form. I'm already sold based on the box alone!

The particular Choose Your Own Adventure book has been broken into five chapters, with the intent being to play one chapter per gaming session. Each chapter is a deck of cards that has you reading out the story and choosing options, just like in the originals, but with the addition of equipment cards, the exciting sounding 'danger meter' and a 'psychic scale' to use in simple challenges.

I'm not sure if it was the nostalgia factor, but I really enjoyed this one. It's very straightforward to play and I love any game where you get to read out the story and make lots of choices. I'm not sure how much replayability there would be once you'd explored a couple of the possible paths, but I've made that trade-off with plenty of games before, like T.I.M.E. Stories or Exit. Hopefully I'll find out when it comes out later this summer!

Core Space (Battle Systems Ltd)

I really enjoyed my demo of Core Space, in no small part due to the enthusiasm and helpfulness of the team on the stand. Core Space is a sci-fi miniature skirmish game which, whilst the game play wasn't really anything I haven't experienced before, really stood out for me because of its amazing terrain. I absolutely love the detail on this stuff, so I may have gone overboard with the number of pictures I took of it; here are a select few!

It was a really enjoyable game, but sadly a bit out of my price range for something that I don't feel would add anything new to my collection. If you'd like to read more, Core Space is still available for post-Kickstarter pre-order via Backerkit.

Ganz Schön Clever (Schmidt)

This game has started a bit of a roll-and-write revolution in our house. Ganz Schön Clever is a completely theme-less dice game that on first glance looks super-dull, but we've become obsessed and can't stop playing!

You roll a handful of colourful dice, choose one to keep and put every die of a lower value on a tray in the middle of the table. Then you roll what's left and do the same again, and then do that once more until you have three dice selected and the rest on the tray. You use the dice you've chosen to tick off values in various areas on the score sheet that meet the right criteria, whilst the other players get to choose one of the values on the tray to use on their own sheet.

I've made that sound super-dry, I know, but I promise it's fun! Ticking off certain boxes give you bonuses in other areas, which can lead to chains that let you tick off more boxes that lead to more and more points... Okay, I appreciate that it's still not sounding high on the excitement scale, but it's really rewarding and everyone stays engaged as they're all playing on everyone else's turn.

I didn't know how much I liked rolling dice and ticking off boxes until I played this game, and now I've already added Noch Mal to the collection since getting home - this time I get to tick off *colourful* boxes!

Hyper League Racing (Mad Dad Games)

Described to us enthusiastically as Mario Kart in space, how could we not try this out? Hyper League Racing is a space racing game with adorable miniatures, originally put together with the designer's daughter in mind. It has straightforward rules that quickly have you crashing and bashing your way around asteroids, moons, wormholes and black holes to get to the finish line before your friends.

This was a lot of fun, played quickly and generated a lot of laughter. They're planning to put the game on Kickstarter in July, so keep your eye out if you think this is something you'd like to see more of.

Solar City (Games Factory)

Solar City is a futuristic city builder where we've finally realised that polluting the air is A Bad Idea and started to convert our existing buildings to create clean energy, oxygen and water with green energy sources. It's referred to as 'solarpunk' and I really enjoy this theme - in dark times it's nice to think that we might wake up and save ourselves!

It's a tile laying game where you build up a city grid of skyscrapers and public structures. You're working to gain victory points by upgrading those skyscrapers to (beautifully illustrated!) skygardens. Each turn you buy and place a building and then activate the row or column you placed in to gain various benefits from the buildings in that line.

The clever bit here is that whichever row or column you choose to activate blocks it for other players, so you can be really tactical with your choices. This makes the game really fun and puzzle-y, so much so that I think it has to be one of my favourite games of the Expo! I've backed the Kickstarter which runs to 9th July.

Spirits of the Forest (Thundergryph Games)

Everything on the Thundergryph Games stand was beautiful, including Spirits of the Forest which, after actually playing the game, has me regretting not backing its recent Kickstarter.

Spirits of the Forest is an abstract set collection game you're trying to get the most spirit symbols, earning points at the end of the game for having the majority for each of nine spirits. You gain spirit symbols by taking tiles with matching colours from the edges of the tile layout, and can use gems to try and block other players from taking particular tiles.

It was clever, strategic and a lot of fun, as well as looking beautiful on the table.

Sub Terra (ITB Board Games)

I've heard so much about Sub Terra in the past but still hadn't played, so it was great to finally try it out at the Expo. It's a tile laying exploration game where you're trying to escape from a cave deep underground which is filled with hazards like floods, cave-ins and poisonous gas.

To win the game you have to ideally all escape together, but after taking one wrong turn I suffered a string of hazards that pushed my further and further from the others with no hope of regrouping. Everyone knows the first rule of adventuring is 'don't split the party', but this cave system had other ideas! The final tile came out to reveal the exit, right next to my cowardly explorer who promptly skipped out and left everyone else trapped in the darkness...

Great game, unless you happen to be in an exploring party with me!

Assembly (Wren Games)

Assembly is a one or two player puzzle game that takes place on an orbital platform used to build fancy spaceships. In a highly suspicious fit of misbehaviour from the station's computer, a deadly virus has taken out the rest of the crew and the air is now being vented. To escape you need to complete a half-built spaceship that's currently on the production line, but it's almost like something is trying to stop you...

I really loved my demo of this game, and I'm not usually a big solo gamer. The puzzle was really clever and engaging, with a deck of cards that dictate the moves you can make, swapping/rotating components around, locking them in place or adding new components to the ring. There's also a two-player mode which I can't wait to try when my Kickstarter copy arrives (yes, I liked it enough to back!).

Finishing on 21st June, there's still time to back this yourself at the Assembly Kickstarter page!

What did I miss?

There's so much I didn't see! Detective from Portal Games and Holding On from Hub Games both sound completely amazing and I missed them both completely! You can read brilliant write-ups from Rory Somers on the Polyhedron Collider blog here and here, though!

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