Another year, another UK Games Expo in the can – and I’m exhausted (but in a good way, of course).
Events kicked off inBirmingham’s Clarendon Suites on the Friday, as usual. While early arrivals set themselves up for a day of gaming in the Strathallen Hotel across the way, myself and other members of the UK Gaming Media Network were sorting out cables and cameras for another weekend of speaking to designers about their new releases. And man… there was a lot of them. From first time producers through to industry bigshots, we welcomed anyone and everyone.
As always there were plenty of highlights, not least the fact that so many people swung by the booth to play Ace of Spies and give us feedback. I was particularly pleased with all the feedback that folks gave us, a lot of which will be thrown into the final release of the game. There’s a few rules tweaks that need to be implemented and a bit of tinkering with the graphic design, but in general the vast majority of players really seemed to enjoy their experience with the game. I’m delighted that people stopped with us to play, but I’m overjoyed that they actually liked it.
My favourite game of the whole weekend was the new design by Surprised Stare’s own Tony Boydell, Snowdonia. Due out through Lookout Games for Essen 2012, it’s an incredibly accessible Euro that has players working against each other in a bid to build a railway up the side of a Welsh mountain. Worker placement combines with a little bit of resource management to make this game just shine… there’s so many different elements and ways of gaining victory points, it’ll certainly reward multiple plays. Interestingly, there’s also room for expansion – in fact, Tony has already got one built in where instead of just taking one path up the mountain, there’s the opportunity to build two which changes the game entirely. I’ve got a feeling Lookout will enjoy plenty of success with this one – I can’t wait to get my hands on a proper copy.
Late Friday night also saw a game of the splendidly vile Cards Against Humanity in the lobby of the Strathallen Hotel. While people all around us were being genteel and indulging in a little Puerto Rico, a bunch of us came up with some truly horrid situations that may well have caused some of the loudest cackling Birmingham has ever heard. Of course, everything is funny when two midgets crapping into a bucket is involved… oh, and Fox News’ Glenn Beck.
I also got to try out the rather good new title from the lads at Backspindle Games, makers of Guards! Guards! The new game is called Codinca, an abstract puzzle game where players must shift and flip tiles around a board in order to create certain patterns. While the patterns for everyone are the same, you don’t know whether they’re going to the gold or the stone variants until they’ve been completed. Luck tokens allow players to grab an extra action or lock areas of the board, and finishing certain patterns trigger Traps where whole sections are flipped over. We did have a couple of moments where things got a little repetitive but a little rules tweak sorted that out – and I’m pleased to say I won the inaugural Podcasters Championship. AND NO-ONE CAN TAKE THAT FROM ME. BEHOLD MY GLORY.
Another highlight was seeing Brett J. Gilbert’s Divinare in retail form (and getting him to sign my copy for me in the cheesiest way imaginable). It’s a fantastic – and quick playing – game of working out how many cards of a certain type will be played in a round. Of the thirty-six cards, one third is removed at the start of each round, then players must discern how many will be face up at the end. Every time a card is placed down, the player must move the token showing how many they think there will be when all are revealed. Extra information can be gleaned through the drafting that happens through the round, points are won for exact or close guesses. It’s simple to play but has plenty of opportunity to screw yourself over – a lot of fun.
It wasn’t all games, of course – there were also plenty of seminars, my favourite of which was Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Top Ten Games which I was privileged to chair. They made some interesting choices; it was great to see stuff like Acquire in there as well as Crude, The Oil Game, but I don’t think anyone was too surprised to see their joint number one was Dungeons and Dragons. They were surprised when Steve pulled a copy of the first ever edition of D&D from his bag, signed by both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. The nerdgasm wave across the room was palpable and plenty of cameras popped out to see this holy grail of gaming. I also managed to get the guys to sign my copy of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain… 12 year old me would be bloody delighted. 36 year old me certainly was.
Quick round up of other cool stuff: Lorien Green’s excellent documentary on board games also got a lot of great feedback over the course of the weekend with two screenings taking place. The new two player version of Agricola also saw its UK debut, complete with revelations from Lookout Games’ Hanno about the possibility of a card game based on the popular franchise. A two player version of Le Havre is also due at Essen this year which looks great. CGE’s Paul presented a couple of interesting new products including an expansion of Dungeon Lords (incorporating the little monsters from Dungeon Petz!) and a new Mayan-based title with a fantastic cog-wheel mechanic. AEG showed off Smash Up as well as the first expansion for Thunderstone Advance, both of which looked awesome. Warriors and Traders from NSKN, a popular game from Essen 2011, saw its UK debut and was incredibly well received too – very much looking forward to trying it out.
The big news is that next year will see the Expo move to a brand new location, the Hilton Metropole out near the Birmingham NEC. According to the show organisers this won’t see much of a change to pricing for the 2013 event, and I’m rather looking forward to having everything under one roof. Here’s hoping that the wifi there holds up, as this year’s live streaming was pretty much a bust as everyone hopped onto the connection. Videos will be available of all the interviews very soon, as soon as we can get them online.
The only downside for this year was the Bring and Buy. Again, despite the very best efforts of the volunteers, it turned into a bit of a disorganised bunfight with alarming regularity. Lots of pushing and shoving, a few boxes getting left open and bits spilling everywhere… it wasn’t the best of scenes. Really, it’s down to some people not having the social skills, but that’s no excuse – wherever you are, in the words of Wheaton’s Law: Don’t Be A Dick. It’s not a hard rule to follow, but I’m sure for some people this is the only time of the year they leave the house… Maybe next year, with more space, things will be way better.
However, all in all, UK Games Expo 2012 was pretty much a winner. Great people, fantastic games and a lot of fun. Oh, and Eurovision with a few drinks in the hotel bar on Saturday night was equally ridiculous and fabulous with a bit of Geistesblitz thrown in too. Board games and banging tunes? What more could you want? See you next year…