Board Games, Dice, and Gaming Heroes – The UK Games Expo 2018
If I could describe the UK Games Expo in one word, it would be “amazing”. If I could describe it in two it would be a “really bloody amazing and one of the best weekends of my life”.
That may have been more than two, but let’s pretend that it wasn’t.
The UK Games Expo, better known as the UKGE (not to be confused with the UK General Election, which is something far less fun), is a yearly gaming event held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham over the first weekend of June. This year was the first year we decided to stay over, and although we couldn’t be happier we did, it ended up being one of the most tiring weekends we have ever had – entirely in a good way. I had to wait a few days before writing this because my brain hasn’t really worked since Sunday. If I start to ramble over the course of this article then you know why.
The UKGE is, for want of a better term, a Geek-mas. It is like Christmas for us board game nerds, but only better. We get to meet our heroes, we get to take seminars on board gaming and we get to play all the games. It is ace.
I’m going to try to cover all the basics and all the write up in one article, so here is an index of what I’ll be covering in this article. Then you can just jump to the bits you want:
- Playing Games
- Staying Over
- Buying Games
- Meeting The Dice Tower
- Meeting No Pun Included
- The Dark Room
- Stand Out Games and Developers
- Moving Forward
As I said, there is a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in –
1. Playing Games
Let’s start with the big one…kind of.
The UK Games Expo is one of THE prominent places in the world to buy board games. If I am correct, although at the time of writing the official entrance figures have not yet been released, it is the third biggest board game festival in the world. As such, there are a lot of games to play, a lot to try, and a lot to buy.
There were, for us, a couple of key things that stood out when it came to playing games. The first is that there were several large areas within the core halls themselves for playing. Tournaments aside, of which this year I did not partake (no longer 6th best Splendor player in the UK – sad times), there were a few open areas in the hall. This included a large play area run by Asmondee that Beth (my partner) and I spent a good few hours in over the weekend.
The second thing that really struck us about the playing of games was that it also happened as a large communal activity in the evenings. The Saturday night we found ourselves in the Hilton Hotel at the NEC (more on this story later) and the two largest conference rooms they had were filled, crammed full, of tables and hundreds of gamers playing. It was huge and really inspiring to see. Gamers, table after table, were enjoying the fruits of their day – laughing, chatting and being merry. It was beautiful.
Of course, there were plenty of games we playtested throughout the Expo but that we never bought for some reason or other (usually budget!). A couple of notable mentions include Bärenpark and Gutterhead. I’ll come onto the list of things we bought in part #4 of this article.
2. Staying Over
This was the first year we decided to actually stay over at the Expo and so we stayed in the Ibis near Terminal One of Birmingham Airport. The hotel was lovely, and the room was amazing. Terminal One is connected to Birmingham International Train Station, which is, in turn, connected to the NEC, so it took us about 20 minutes to get from the Expo to the hotel.
Would I recommend the Ibis? Yes, but the Hilton is probably a better choice. The Ibis is cheaper, but the Hilton is where things are at. Also, if you have late events like we did, then the shuttle shuts down at 12.30am until 3.30am. We had to find ways to walk to the hotel in the early hours of the morning because the shuttle was closed on both the Saturday and the Sunday nights. The Ibis didn’t have a car park, which also meant that (since you can’t park in the NEC car park overnight and since airport parking quoted us over £60) we had friends drop us off on Friday and pick us up on Sunday.
Next year we are going to try to stay in the Hilton. It’s where the community is late at night. It also has a car park. The Ibis was nice, and better than not staying over, but it wasn’t perfect.
Nothing to do with the Expo, but on the Friday afternoon, we jumped on a 4pm train from Birmingham International, traveled to Euston. Jumped on the Underground to Victoria and watched Hamilton. For those who haven’t heard of Hamilton – it’s a musical about Alexander Hamilton during the American War of Independence. My girlfriend is a huge musicals fan, so we booked tickets like two years ago or something ridiculous like that to see it because I said I wanted to. Part of it is in rap, which makes it a bit different.
It was amazing. I recommend it to everyone. Very very well done. Now, back to the gaming.
4. Buying Games
So here’s the deal. You know how I said it is like Geek Christmas? Well, my partner and I had been saving up for months for the Expo. As such we walked away with 28 games, a few accessories, and a couple of expansions. Yeahhh, I’m not going to need to buy any games for a long time.
Our haul was:
Big Box Games:
- New Angeles
- Spirit Island
- Fog of Love
Medium Box Games:
- The Chameleon
- Truth Bombs
- Weird Things Humans Search For
- Battle for Rokugan
- Escape from the Dark Castle
- Dare to Dream
Small Box Games/Filler Games:
- Pocket Mars
- Samurai Gardener
- Monty Python Fluxx
- Kaker Laker Poker
- Halfling Feast
- Rocket Race
- King of Thieves
- Onitama: Sensai’s Path
- Shadespire: Sepulchral Guard
So, plenty of content coming up on the blog! I’ll write an article about why we bought each one of those at some point in the future.
Those who read my “Road to the Expo” blogs know how much I was looking forward to the food at the UKGE. Every year there is a food court erected in the car park of the Hilton Hotel and, as per usual, it was amazing. The Burrito place was there, and cracking as always (Habanero’s). As was the hotdog place (Big Daddies Diner). Outside the NEC was the usual Fish and Chips place which was also cracking.
The above picture not only shows the “Bogs Dollocks” hotdog from Big Daddies Diner, but it also shows Sins, which was nominated for the best new RPG. That’s a multitasking picture!
6. Meeting The Dice Tower
One of the biggest things for me, as a gamer, over the UK Games Expo weekend is to meet my gaming heroes. These are people who have inspired me to get into gaming and/or to start writing this blog. This year The Dice Tower had a stall and I managed to meet Zee Garcia there – we ended up having a conversation about Sagrada. Over the next two days I kept trying to meet Tom Vasal, however, as you can imagine, as one of the largest board game influencers in the world, everyone wanted to meet him.
Then on the Saturday evening, we went to a live recording of a Dice Tower Top Ten where the topic was “Top Ten Games We Love But Suck At”. They all know exactly what they are talking about when it comes to games, and hearing them live was incredible. There was so much knowledge on that top table.
Then, afterward, I met Tom Vasal (aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!). He is genuinely a really nice guy. I told it was an honour to meet him, to which he told me that I shouldn’t say it’s an honour as he’s just a normal guy. To which I responded something along the lines of:
“Dude, you’re like the biggest board game influencer in the world. It is an honour. You’re one of the people who got me into board games.”
He responded he was really pleased about that. I won’t recount the whole conversation but he is awesome. The whole experience was incredible. The guy is one of my heroes and now I have a dice to prove it.
7. Meeting No Pun Included
There are two things to say about No Pun Included. As some of you who subscribed to this blog a very long time ago may remember, last year I appeared in a No Pun Included video as “Misunderstood Fan”, doing a short skit with them. At the time I actually turned the opportunity down due to anxiety, but then found them again and appeared in the video. Well, for those of you looking forward to seeing me in this year’s video – you can stop looking forward, as I’m not in it, but I will tell you two things.
Firstly, I met Elaine and Efka again. They are really awesome people, and if you are a board gamer, but you haven’t yet checked out their videos, then you totally should.
Secondly, they recorded the first ever No Pun Included show there. In the show, they had a panel of board game influencers, Youtubers, and people we generally listen to in the industry. Meanwhile, Elaine had written songs about board games (really good songs, I have to say) only for the panel to try and guess which game the song was about. There were songs about all sorts of games from Viticulture to Clans of Caledonia.
It was highly enjoyable. The panel included Tom Vasal from the Dice Tower, the guys from Semi-Coop and a few other people. A great show and really funny. Elaine did an amazing job with the songs, and I hope they release them onto Google Play.
8. The Dark Room (Til Ya Die)
“You awake to find yourself in a dark room!”
Those nine words now epitomise one of the funniest experiences we, here at Start Your Meeples, have ever taken part in. The Dark Room is a comedy event that tours the UK as well as having a regular spot in a London theatre in Soho, where a comedian known as John Robertson guides you through a live-action text-based video game. Sound confusing? The concept is, but this video may help clear up some questions –
We went in having no idea what The Dark Room was, and coming out I’m not sure I can tell you even now. It was one of the funniest nights of entertainment I have ever seen. We saw the late night performance (also known as The Dark Room: Til Ta Die), which went from 11pm to 2am, and tickets only cost us £10. Our friends recommended it, and now I am passing that recommendation on. My ribs physically hurt afterwards from laughing so hard. John Robertson is a genius – a pure and simple genius. For anyone looking at going to the UKGE next year, you have to go see it. I won’t say anymore – just go.
9. Stand Out Games And Developers
This breakdown is now coming to an end, but before we do draw it to a close I want to talk about a few standout games and developers – merging the two into one to provide some kind of elusive mash-up of what it was like at the UKGE this year.
There are so many companies that stood out this year, but I just wanted to talk about a few that specifically caught our eye –
Big Potato Games
Big Potato Games are one of THE best party game makers on the market. Rather than just doing Cards Against Humanity clones, Big Potato are innovating the industry and doing something new. Not only are the team really nice, but they always do something incredible as their stall. Last year they built the Board Game Menagerie. This year their van was their stall, and what a van it was –
Triple Ace Games
Joining the competition for the friendliest team, Triple Ace Games seem to specialise in small card games and RPGs, although they do have several other games on offer. We picked up a few interesting looking games from their stall including Rocket Race (Beth’s entrance into our “£10 Challenge” we do every year), Halfling Feast, and Aaru.
Turtle Dream Games
Turtle Dream Games came to the Expo with their game Dare To Dream this year and I have to admit their artwork is second to none. We fell in love with the concept of Dare To Dream. It is a one-versus-many game, with one player paying as the Bogeyman wanting to give kids nightmares, and the other players playing as toys to protect the kids. We haven’t played it yet, but we ended up investing heavily, buying a playing mat as well. The art is amazing, the concept is brilliant. We can’t wait to play.
Themeborne made the Escape from the Dark Castle. I’ve heard so much about this game online (from the likes of Rory at Board Meetings) that I just had to give it a go. The stall was all dressed up and looking spectacular, but more importantly, this game looks really interesting. I can’t wait to tuck in.
Finally, and this is one that was alluded to earlier in this article, Sins is an RPG that was nominated for “Best New RPG” at the UKGE. It is a novel game, with a beautifully illustrated rulebook. The concept is unique – namely, the apocalypse has happened and you have been raised from the dead to either save mankind or end it. I love the idea, and from the brief start I have managed to make dipping into the rules, it looks like it will be really fun to play. Should be ace.
10. Moving Forward?
There are a few ways to answer this. The first is the obvious one. How are we moving on from the Expo? Sleep. We are sleeping – a lot. Over the weekend, if you work out the maths, we got around 4.5 hours sleep per night (getting in at 2.30am and getting up at 7am) and did around 30,000 steps per day. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but you may have noticed this article isn’t quite as coherent as they usually are. A lot more rambling. I am still recovering and it’ll probably take a couple more days before I am caught up.
Secondly, we have a lot of games to play. I had already booked Monday off from work, so, if you follow me on Instagram (which you totally should because I post a few exclusive photos there…oOo…intriguing…) then you will know I spent my Monday learning Anachrony and Dice Forge which my mates bought at the Expo, plus Sagrada from this list. YES – IT IS A GOOD GAME. I will get around to reviewing it, but not yet. First…well…first sleep.
Finally, we are starting to look ahead to the UK Games Expo 2019. This time it will not include Hamilton on Day One, but there are a few things we are taking as a priority.
- Stay at the Hilton or one of the other hotels around the NEC itself. Staying by the airport is a pain in the ass.
- Take part in the seminars – they are great fun and you never know who you’ll meet.
- Do The Dark Room – just…do it.
- See what else is there. This was the first year we did actual events, and they were all amazing. Next year we’ll look at what else is on as well.
Here is to next year and the following few months.
SOOOOOO – with that, I am going to draw this casual near-3000 word exploration of our experience at the UKGE to a close. Once again, it was an amazing year. I can’t wait until the UK Games Expo 2019.
If you were there, what did you think? What were your main purchases? What are you looking forward to next year and what do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.