Hi everyone, welcome. Today’s post I am going to be sharing my experiences of this year’s UK Games Expo. As some of you know this will be my third year attending, and my second year as press. So, let’s get right to it. What do you need to know? Also, buckle in – this is a long post!
The UK Games Expo is an annual event in the NEC and Hilton Metropole Hotel in Birmingham where developers and sellers bring their goods to several giant halls and flog their awesome shiny game products to all and sundry. Throw in some live entertainments, scheduled rpg sessions that you can join, some tournaments and a viking village and you get the idea. But before I go on about this year’s event, I want to touch on a few bits that you might not find in other articles – a few things to consider.
The Expo is staffed and made possible by an army of volunteers and staff, the staff having the thankless worker placement game of organising the shifts of said army. The volunteers are all fantastic, and deserve to be thanked, and in all seriousness if you have never attended the expo (or even if you have) you could do worse than signing up as a volunteer. My first year at the expo I was a volunteer (You can read about my adventures HERE), and I made loads of friends who have helped me out on a number of occasions – for instance, I showed up to watch and record an event last year and they could see that my disability was acting up and helped me into the venue and to a seat so that I wasn’t standing around waiting getting sorer and sorer. Signing up as a volunteer lets you get the lay of the land if you’ve never been before, you get accommodation paid for (in the Hilton no less, or at least they did when I was a volunteer) and two meals a day. Yes, you will spend much of your time on shift working, but when you have time off you’ll be able to experience what the expo has to offer paid for. You can learn about volunteering at the UKGE website HERE
If you have a website, podcast or youtube channel, you can apply for a press pass. This grants you access to the expo and the show preview the night before opening. This is a great opportunity to chat to developers and see what games they have in production, arrange demos…and my personal favourite is meeting up with folks I have previously met. Folks who were just trying to bring their dreams to tabletop. Meeting them a year, or two, later when they have managed to achieve that, well, it is incredibly rewarding to see. I had the good fortune this year to catch up with Robbie Munn, developer of Summoner’s Isle and the lads from Sharkie Games who developed Dead Throne. Summoner’s Isle (which you can read about HERE) was just gearing up for Kickstarter last year is now funded and I believe going out to backers. Dead Throne was one of the games I looked in on two years ago that went to Kickstarter, but didn’t fund the first time round. But the lads at Sharkie Games carried on undaunted, took feedback from the backers and launched again last year…and most of the backers should have received their copy in the last month. I like a story with a happy ending.
I was impressed with this year’s press event as it felt much more spacious than last year. It was busy and some stalls I had to visit several times to have a chat with the developers, but it didn’t feel cramped or claustrophobic. Last year was a wee bit cramped, but not massively. I just feel it is worth mentioning as it was better this year.
Update 09/06/2019 – there was a press room available which would certainly have helped me with rest breaks if I had remembered it was there. I was certainly invited to use it but for reasons that are probably daft, I didn’t.
I have a mobility impairment which causes me to get tired easily. Standing around causes me pain as does slow walking. As such I am in a reasonable place to comment on the venue and the toll the event can take. There are plenty of ramps in the NEC for access to different levels, something I am grateful for, though as you might imagine the venue is huge. And the event is split between NEC and Hilton Metropole hotel. It is only a short walk between them, however I felt it quite keenly last year when I was visiting as my hotel was quite distant from the Hilton on the opposite side of the NEC. It was impractical to return during the day for a rest break. However, before it sounds like all doom and gloom for folks who get tired easily, in the NEC there are some seats in the food concessions and plenty of perches and benches outside near the viking village. In the Hilton itself there are large halls given over to the expo for open Gaming, and during the day there is plenty of space to veg out in the corner. The corridors that snake through the ground floor are also lousy with sofas and last year no one seemed to mind me crashing out on them for half an hour at a time despite not being a resident in the hotel. If you have the funds, staying in the Hilton (which I did this year) is ideal as it means you can collapse in your room for an hour before returning to game hunting with a vengeance. That being said, the Hilton seems to have doubled their prices for next year so I might just have to find other accommodation unless they return to a reasonable level in the next few months. The room was good but not £400 a night good.
If you are prone to overheating you are going to overheat. Have a water bottle with you, there are refill points in the NEC.
There are lots of places to eat whilst at the expo. Just be aware that they can be pricey, and the queues for some of the concessions can be long. Here is something I discovered. The NEC has a bridge directly to Birmingham International Train Station. There are more restaurants there. and there is a free monorail to Birmingham Airport, which has more restaurants and convenience stores. Just be aware that if you do pop into the airport, there is a good chance airport security measures will demagnetise hotel keycards and you’ll need a new room key issued if that happens. Certainly that happened to me every single day last year because riding the monorail was the quickest way to get to the expo.
there are a lot of events going on from live shows to games you can join. Do yourself a favour. Book them in advance and plan your visit. Don’t be the daft idiot who misread one of the events and accidentally booked three rpg sessions, totaling 12 hours for 1 day…
So, onto the Event itself…
Games on Display
The first game I found this year was Shadows of Kilforth, the sequel to Gloom of KIlforth which I saw exhibited last year. Both games are short (1 to 2 hour) rpg style card games intended for folks who love rpg and storytelling games but don’t have the time to commit to a campaign.
As of writing, a pledge manager for Shadows is currently open, though Gloom is also available as a bolt on. Both can be played standalone or combined as you like. You can find the pledge manager HERE
Britannia is a historic wargame that has been out for a while covering various historical eras of the British Isles from the Roman invasion to the Norman conquest. Players take take the roles of a number of tribes and score points by controlling said tribes historic territory in the time periods they were active. Duel Britannia is a shorter, 2 player variant of this game now also available.
I would link to this product specifically however the business card I was given was for the Plastic Soldier Company website, and I couldn’t find this game on it…
Top Hats and Treachery is a game I was hoping to get a play test of during the expo, however my stamina was a tad disobedient so it didn’t happen this time round. It is a game of story telling and rumour-mongering as players take on the roles of staff at a top Victorian Hotel. Elites of society come and stay and the staff gossip somewhat about them. I have to say that I do like a good tall tale game and this sounds right up my alley. You can find details of it HERE
Blood on the Clocktower is a recently kickstarted social deduction game similar to Ultimate Werewolf or Mafia where players take the role of villagers being hunted by a villainous demon. Each villager role is unique, generating different information throughout the game. Though not all of the information is true as the game has a mechanic whereby the player character may actually be the town drunk, in which case they are fed lies by the gamesmaster. The game is a party game for 6 to 20 people and there is a limited window on the late ledge HERE. I have to say, whilst the game does sound fun I was never a fan of Ultimate Werewolf as a game concept as, in my opinion, it takes itself way too seriously for what is essentially a pen and paper game. This game may fall into that category from my perspective, however for the sake of balance I will state that having been to various games clubs, games like Ultimate Werewolf are popular among many of the members. I did intend to try a demo of this game but was unable to find the folks after the press event. Maybe the demon got them? Or perhaps I am the town drunk and made all of this up, eh?
Whilst wandering past the Tainted Grail stall, a game that I have kickstarted and am expecting in the next few months, I found by the same folks Etherfields.
Etherfields appears to be another narrative game where players wake up in a dream world and must piece together their identity and past all the while they are being hunted by monsters. Of all the games at UKGE this year, this is the one that is most tempting Kickstarter wise. As of writing, the KS is not live though the Draft page is HERE. I am a fan of the manufacturer, Awaken Realms and I have signed up for a reminder though I guess I will have to look at the pennies when the KS goes live. It does look awesome…
Last year I met the game developer, Robbie Munn who created Summoner’s Isle which you can read about HERE. It was heartening to see Robbie back this year, not only riding the success of Summoner’s Isle but with a new game called Sumo Gnomes. I was able to play test with Robbie. Sumo Gnomes is a quick and easily portable two player game where players roll dice to maneuver their sumo gnome around a tree stump attempting to eject their opponent from said stump and win the game. I had a few games with Robbie and was soundly thumped every time. I have to say, Summoner’s Isle was more to my taste being area control and strategy however I can see the appeal of Sumo Gnomes being a fairly short and quite a fun game. I just wasn’t very good at it. Though I may have been sleepy as I didn’t get much sleep the night before as I hadn’t figured out how to shut off the hotel aircon system yet… You can read more about Sumo Gnomes HERE
Speaking of heartening returns, at my first expo two years ago I met the lads at Sharkie Games who were promoting their Kickstarter game Dead Throne. I never got to try it that year as I was volunteering most of the weekend but I was intrigued by the mechanical market element of the game and the beautiful game boards and artwork, so I watched as it went to Kickstarter. Sadly, it didn’t fund the first time, however Dead Throne was anything but dead, and taking on feedback from the backers of KS1 came back for a second attempt a few months later and were successful. In fact at the time of expo 2019, most backers (in the UK at least) should have received their copy. I did a bit of paid promotion for Dead Throne on KS2 which you can read HERE.
I am happy to add the following for free. I was able to get a playtest of Dead Throne this time round, though admittedly it was only a 2 player version which limited the scope of the game. The game was very enjoyable and pretty straightforward. I imagine as more players are added and other territories and game elements are explored, the complexity increases, though for my part that is all to the good. I won this playtest by a combination of excellent gamesmanship, happy accident and they basically let me win. I am told at time of expo there are still copies in fulfillment centers so you can order and receive a copy fairly quickly if you are interested, and you can do so HERE.
Incidentally, the Kickstarter was for a deluxe version of the game and there are plans for non deluxe version to be crowdfunded soon which will be cheaper, as well as a gameplay expansion adding a subterranean element to the game. Keep your eyes peeled.
One of my major things this year was to try out more of the convention RPGs. I had a chance to play Wraith: The Oblivion last year (read about my adventures as a zombie HERE) and thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to experience a few others, perhaps even with the view to running stuff at the expo in future years. I was booked onto three games, Vampire: The Masquerade, Dragons Conquer America and Call of C’Thulhu. I accidentally booked them all for the first Friday of Expo (I had misread the info for Dragons Conquer America and thought it was running on Saturday. I was wrong), fortunately, they were all in different time slots so my 12 hours of rpg (in one day) went ahead anyway.
Vampire: The Masquerade -This game disappeared off the face of the earth, not showing on the website and not showing in the cancellations section of the Games Area. The GM and players all failed to show up and I was understandably a bit annoyed. There was another RPG going on in the same room, the new(ish) Star Trek rpg and they still had vacancies. After waiting 10 minutes past game start for my GM to arrive, the Star Trek GM offered me a spot, which I accepted (I just had to return to the ticket desk to report the missing Game and swap my ticket).
Update 09/06/2019 – After going through my junk mails I found an email from the staff member at the expo in charge of rpg informing me of the cancellation due to illness of the GM. I hope that the GM either is already better or has a speedy recovery. It is unclear why this fact was not known at the ticket desk when I enquired, nor why the cancellation wasn’t listed at the time. I can only assume that since the Expo is huge that it was simply a case of too many moving parts and the message was lost along the way. Ultimately, no harm was done and the volunteers were helpful in sorting out my suggested solution and that is all that really matters
I had wanted to play the Star Trek game for a while but hadn’t had the chance so this was a bit of a silver lining, and so we got a science mystery game where I played the Captain (and some of the support officers). In fact everyone had their main character and a cast of support officers as the main characters often had to split up to go on away missions etc. The story was fun, a search and rescue in a nebula loaded with asteroids and a malicious entity possessing the crew of the starship in distress. That being said, for the first two hours of the game it felt very much like we were only dice rolling and not achieving an awful lot. This got a bit better in the second half of the game with fewer dice rolls and more progress, so I can’t say for certain if it was the game or simply us as a group that were culprit here. I did feel this felt more like a coop boardgame than an rpg as it didn’t feel like as a group we were role playing that much (not a criticism, just an observation – I am aware many groups run like this and this could just be a combination of group/player dynamic and early morning on day one).
Dragons Conquer America
Of all the convention RPGs I played in, this was by far my favourite. I was last at the table as the game had been moved from its allocated room and there was no signage to this effect so I had to hunt it down. I eventually did and was given the last available character, Donna Carlotta, a Spanish Hidalgo on a colonisation type expedition to the Americas in the time of Cortes.
The premise of the game is that it is historic around the time of Spanish conquest of South and Central America, and that Dragons are real. In Europe, Dragons serve in various armies ridden by Dragon Riders. I did a preview of the game when it originally went to Kickstarter as a result of seeing it at my first expo, and you can read about it HERE.
Our objective in game as a group was to visit a Spanish colony and try to advance the cause of Spain, and also determine if there was any truth in the rumours that there were untamed Dragons in America. We arrived in a colony in strife, with a paranoid governor who had managed to alienate the natives and was now in fear of his life. Being an arrogant noblewoman who was cash poor but attitude rich, I decided from pretty much the start that my objective during the game was to depose the Governor and become governor myself. Along with me I had a Dragon Rider, Maria, my Moorish Conquistador Bodyguard/Assassin and two priests. Over the course of the game I managed to further weaken the Governor via politics whilst the rest of the group managed to build alliances with locals and even found a dragon to tame which we were able to use to defeat a witch doctor who was terrorising the town. A defeat made easier by the fact we managed to lure away the witch doctor’s allies to our side, and also because I managed to get the governor drunk enough to sign orders giving me carte blanche. He was very angry when he sobered up and If Esteban (my bodyguard) hadn’t intercepted them, there was a team of guards dispatched to arrest me for treason. Fortunately, Esteban is very persuasive( he slaughtered their leader and offered the rest a chance to switch sides) and by the end of the game, the colony was mine and we could all move forward in profit.
Call of C’Thulhu – bizzarely this is not a game I have played much of in my life, though each time I have played it I enjoyed it. This time round we played a group of modern day investigators, in my case a bail bondsman/bounty hunter, looking into a child abduction case. We were supplied evidence at the start of the game and let loose on the story. The child’s parents were the head of an obscure branch of the church devoted to the “Passover Angel” (read Angel that brought the plague of death to Egyptian firstborns in the story of Moses), and the abductor was actually a former ATF agent. The agent managed to abduct the child from a grocery store then bizarrely returned to steal the child’s backpack from the still stunned mother. The abductor failed and after shooting up the shop, shot himself in the head. We learned through our police contact (one of the players) that the child had numerous ailments, and her medication was in the backpack. We also knew that the ATF agent, now retired, specialised in investigating cults. Pretty much straight away I figured we were not dealing with an abduction so much as a rescue to remove the child from harm’s way, which we proved over the course of the story.
This game was a lot of fun but wasn’t without its problems. Firstly, we were originally situated in a room that was way too loud. One of the other rpg tables were loud to the point of being obnoxious which has a knock on effect on every other table in the room trying to be heard. This was sorted after about 30 minutes of play when we found and relocated to a quieter room. Secondly, the GM was less prepared than I would have liked for the game. The game was a pre written scenario and our gm spent a large amount of time just reading it as he was unable to answer many of our questions when we had them. This wouldn’t normally be an issue but we had a 4 hour time limit on our booking, and as a result of the waiting time for the GM to read every answer our finale was reduced to an anticlimatic single dice roll. I still enjoyed the game, but it could have been a bit better.
Lessons I have learned from these three and my previous experience.
Simplify the rules. There is a good chance that not everyone at the table knows the rules and for a one shot you don’t need it all.
Be familiar with the story being told. No one can reasonably be expected to memorise everything but there are time limits.
Morning games are quieter. Late games are potentially the nosiest (as some players have had a bit to drink by then).
Showing up for your game is a good idea.
If there are any issues, such as missing gm or games, speak to Expo staff and they will try and help as best they can.
There are a lot of live shows and entertainment at the UK Games Expo, so if you want to take a load off and be entertained then there are plenty of things to book onto. I was booked onto 1 this year for the Saturday night at 2130…but due to being exhausted from the previous days mammoth rpg marathon, and Saturday’s wandering around trade halls that are way too hot I was exhausted and fell asleep at 2000 more or less until 700 the next morning. Oops.
That being said I have attended the Expo before and have written about several of the shows to choose from so here is my list.
The Dark Room – very entertaining, though I get the sense that over the years it has gotten quite in jokey and is getting quite close to being cliquey if it isn’t already. Still, worth a watch if you have never seen it because it is funny.
Live RPG Plus – this didn’t happen this year, which is a shame. Last year this was a stage game of Call of C’Thulhu where prominent members of the gaming industry played in a comedy version of the game. I was permitted to record it so click the link and enjoy.
Knightmare Live – a stage version of the popular kid’s TV show from the 1980s and very early 90s.
The MMORPG Game Show – a live show run by the same gentleman who runs Knightmare Live, where some audience members are invited onto stage and play in a daft entirely improvised RPG. Last year not only was I permitted to record the show, I was in it as one of the players. Click the link and have a look.
Starship Bridge Simulator
Ever since the first Expo where I was allowed to fill one of the gaps in a game of the Starship Bridge Simulator, I have made a point of playing in it every single year. Players join 5 other crew who each take on the roles of various bridge officers on a starship, from captain to weapons, from helm to science, and play a mission using the videogame Artemis as the platform. In my first year, I wrote about my experience playing HERE. This year I got on a two hour slot, by coincidence with 4 lads I played with last year and we were an excellent team. (We were a bit rocky to start with last year but we got there). This year we were a well oiled machine…and the crew running the simulator upgraded us to a dreadnought…just for fun. A must for any UKGE attendee though book early because the tickets sell at warp speed.
Of course, one of the reasons for going to the UK Games Expo is to buy stuff. Last year I bought nothing, but this year I had a budget.
I’d been intending to get Call of C’Thulhu for a while and whilst purchasing from amazon would have been physically less demanding (and painful – the books are heavy…) I decided to support some of the vendors at the Expo and buy the Keeper Book and Screen, and the Investigator’s handbook. I also got monster cards for DnD for a bit of ease when running and lastly i purchased 1066, Tears to many mothers (Same guy made this as Gloom and Shadows of Kilforth). I wasn’t keen on the name, actually, but I liked the concept – a 1 or 2 player historic strategy card game, that Tristan and I had geeked over last year. So I bought it this year. Looking forward to playing with all of them.
And that is my Expo Experience for another year. If you made it to the end of this rather long post then, my thanks. I hope it helps inform you for your expo and gaming adventures.
Bye for now!