Last weekend saw the return of the annual UK Games Expo, which took place as usual in Birmingham. From quite small roots, the Expo has grown in a few short years into a major event on the British gaming scene for people from many different gaming genres. While it’s still far from the size of something like Origins in the USA or the extravaganza that is Essen, the UK Games Expo is now firmly on the map. I was lucky enough to head up on the Saturday to see what kind of things were on offer this year.
First of all, there were plenty of interesting new games. Martin Wallace’s Age of Industry and the Ragnar Brothers’ Workshop of the World certainly seemed to be attracting an awful lot of attention from a British point of view. The Ragnars were especially impressive spending the day in full Victorian dress, even if the large coats were dispensed with pretty early in the day – not surprising as their stall was in one of the busiest and hottest rooms of the Expo! Both games were getting a lot of good buzz, especially Age of Industry – it certainly seems to be standing on its own as opposed to just being a simplified version of one of his previous releases, Brass. However, popular as both of them were, the game that most people seemed to be walking around with was Forbidden Island – previously reviewed here on Little Metal Dog, of course. The Expo seemed to be the unofficial launch for Matt Leacock’s latest release, and the demo tables were very busy indeed with many games being played throughout the whole day – the £15 pricepoint really helped too. It wasn’t just Forbidden Island that was getting a lot of play, however – Richard Denning’s Great Fire: London 1666 was also on offer, again getting a lot of people excited. Richard is also one of the people behind organising the whole Expo, so he ended up having an incredibly busy time – I’m quite sure he’ll acknowledge it was worth the effort, however.
Tabletop gaming was also in great form, with everything from ancient Rome to futuristic space battles represented. I played an excellent game called Last Living Soul, designed by the guys behind a magazine called The Ancible. Being a total junkie for zombie-related fun, this was a great effort considering it was basically a homebrew game – 30 minutes against the clock in a desperate battle for survival, LLS ended up being one of the best games I played at the show. Some of the work put into the tabletop games was incredible – Esdevium Games, the UK’s leading distributor, notably had a fantastic D&D Dungeon Delve set-up alongside demonstrations of many big games. If I’d had a bit more time, I would have loved to have taken a place at that table as everyone seemed to be having a blast.
Lots of the big online stores had stalls offering a huge variety of goodies for sale (and some free stuff – I managed to get sets of the Black Market, Envoy and Stash cards for Dominion!). Prices were competitive – mainly down to their being no need for postage, it must be said – and business seemed to be brisk for everyone. Certainly by mid-afternoon I heard a few people asking for certain games being told that they were sold out – surely a sign that business was pretty good. A quick mention for the guys at Board Game Extras and their excellent bits for customizing games – my wife was very happy indeed with her set of orange meeples for Carcassonne, and I was coveting their beautiful wooden train carriages for Ticket to Ride…
If bargains were what you were looking for, the annual Bring and Buy was definitely the place to head for. One of the most consistently busy areas of the whole show, you could offer anything for sale, stick a price on it and see what happened. 15% of all sales went to charity, so as well as getting rid of unwanted games, you were doing something good! In past years I’ve found it a bit of a free-for-all, but organisation was much better this time around. I even managed to shift a couple of things!
If I’d had more money, I swear I’d have come home with stacks of stuff. Maybe next year…
As well as buying stuff, there was plenty of other things to do at the Expo – tournaments for board games and tabletops, book signings (Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone – the founders of Games Workshop and authors of the early Fighting Fantasy books – were there, and were gracious enough to chat with me for a few moments – two lovely blokes), workshops… I would love to see this kind of thing expanded next year – discussions and panels are one of the things I really enjoy at conventions, so a few more at UK Games Expo 2011 would be a great thing to see. However, if they plan on making it a bigger event, they’re going to need a larger venue. The current place was bursting at the seams this year – and as the day went on and got hotter, the comfort levels dropped. Not a major issue, admittedly, but something to certainly consider for future events. You can tell that the Games Expo has been set up by people who love to play, but the question is… where do they go from here?