So, let’s talk about the UK Games Expo 2011.
In a nutshell, it was a very busy, very enjoyable weekend. Three days of gaming goodness in the UK’s second city with hundreds of like minded people is always something to cherish, but this year was special down to a couple of firsts; I was lucky enough to be able to get there for the entire event – something I’ve not been able to do before down to time or money issues. The main thing though? I was there to work. And who’d have thought that talking about stuff could be so exhausting?
As part of the UK Gaming Media Network, we’d approached the Expo organisers to see if they’d be up for letting us come to the event and provide live coverage of the event to be streamed online. After a bit of convincing that we’d be able to do it they gave us the go ahead – then the hard work really began. Mark Rivera from Board Games in Blighty began collecting together a pantheon of guests for us to talk to, hounding them with emails and booking them in to the schedule as one by one they relented and said Yes.
Just arrived! Those smiles will soon fade through exhaustion!
Friday morning rolled round and a very early train got me to Birmingham. I met up with Chris Bowler from Unboxed – our fixer! – at the station just after 9am and we headed to site. After grabbing our passes from the door team, we were shown to our little area and set up the gear for a few test broadcasts. I’d done a test run the previous weekend but I had no idea if it’d actually work out in the wild – thankfully the show organiser Richard Denning was on hand to help out, showing off a couple of his new designs (Hastings 1066 and The Great Museum) as I fluffed around with cables, cameras and computers. The first recordings had a few sound issues, but the problem was soon sorted after a few wires were jiggled about. If you’d like to check out the live streams, they’re all to be found at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/uk-games-expo
After dealing with Richard’s two games, we were joined by the ace Patrick Ruedisueli who was over at the show to promote his upcoming board game Existenz, based on their already available card game X610Z. It’s a beautiful looking game that got a lot of good notices at the show. With luck, they’re aiming for an October release – check out http://www.x610z.com/ for more information (and expect a review of their Living Card Game soon). We also met up with the guys behind Zombie Close, the first release from Braincandy.uk. While it had a few nice ideas, it also had some issues that needed dealing with – the rulebook especially needed a bit of tightening up, but it’s always good to see first time attendees getting their stuff out there. We also got the chance to meet the wonderful Lewis Pulsipher who was appearing on a couple of our panels – his joyously sardonic ways were to appear more than once over the weekend.
Happy in the knowledge that everything worked, we derigged everything and booked into our various hotels, then managed to get in some gaming over at the Strathallen Hotel. I met up with Chris O’ Regen (one of my colleagues from videogame site spong.com) to get some revenge at Yomi while other gamers took over every available flat surface available. We also broke out a three player game of the excellent Alien Frontiers (review coming soon) before a bunch of us headed for dinner. The evening then drew to a close with what can only be an epic Battlestar Galactica game…
It all began well enough. Five players assumed their roles after a quick description of the rules – Mark, Chris, Chris’ mate Sam, Brett from 55 Cards and myself (although I dropped out a little way in, with Steph taking my place). The paranoia levels were high from the start. Suspicions and accusations flew with abandon as characters were thrown in the brig on a regular basis. After a bit of a rules fluff (Mark didn’t get that Cylons can reveal any time and begin using their own locations so ended up in the brig for a good hour) everything quickly went downhill for the poor humans. President (and former Admiral) Brett was sure that Chris and Steph were Cylon traitors – but how wrong he was. Mark, who had by now revealed his toaster tendencies, was causing merry hell while Sam was secretly scuppering everything he could lay his hands on. Resources ran lower than any game of BSG I’ve ever seen – everything was down to 1 with the humans still far from home, and the final Crisis Card decreed their fate. The Cylons were victorious, and Sam hadn’t even officially revealed himself. A very entertaining game indeed, even as an observer. By the end of the game (around 11.30pm) there were a lot of tired folks about and the various games rooms were winding down… time for bed.
One of the *many* game rooms at the Strathallen Hotel. This was around 11pm on Friday.
Saturday morning rolled round with another early start (sensing a theme here?) and saw the team traipsing over to the Expo site with bleary eyes. With everything set up, tested and ready to go by 8.30am, I took some time to wander the rooms and check out what was on offer before the crowds descended. I love checking out the various stalls, coveting the thousands of games on offer – window shopping was pretty much my limit this year though. Any money to be spent on games was coming from the few bits I had put into the always impressive Bring and Buy room. I did actually come out with about £40 after my games sold, but £20 of that went on a book for Steph while £14 was dropped on a copy of The ElfQuest Boardgame (don’t ask, it was a gift for a friend of ours). The trifling coppers I was left with still managed to be exchanged for a copy of Mini FITS though. Nice to walk out with something, no matter how small!
The stands were all pretty impressive, notably Triple Ace’s effort – you’ve never seem so much shiny stuff. A special mention has to be made for Surprised Stare whose giant Paperclip Railways gets the award for “Thing I Would Most Have Liked To Steal”. I think Tony Boydell (the game’s designer) saw the crazed look in my eye and gave me a bunch of promo stations for the regular sized game simply to stop any potential criminal activity. The Stupid City tile was particularly impressive…
The public soon began to swarm in and the work of the day began. A parade of designers visited our little corner of the room to show off their games, all gathering little crowds around our table. Between Mark and myself, we spoke with them all – and dare I say it, I reckon we did pretty well (Chris even jumped in for a couple of demos on the Sunday and was equally good!). However, the big things were yet to come – the panels.
I have to admit I was really worried about them. The first on the list was a “Meet the Media” kind of thing where Chris, Mark and myself were going to talk about gaming in the UK and what we’re doing to try and promote it. We were a couple of minutes late thanks to us having the pleasure of Martin Wallace talking about his upcoming Discworld game Ankh-Morpork (which I’m very excited about – it’s beautiful and very solid yet accessible). I didn’t even think we’d have more than a handful of people show up, but walking into the room… I was totally made up. There was a good 50 people in there to start with and Lewis Pulsipher was sitting up front holding court until our arrival. We took our seats, talked for a while about ourselves (which got easier) and answered a bunch of questions from the crowd which actually got bigger. What’s even better is NOBODY GOT UP AND WALKED OUT. Consider me shocked but also pretty pleased. Thank you to everyone who came to listen to us babble!
After our panel was done, I was left behind as the others returned to run more live demonstations. I wasn’t abandoned though, just assuming the role of host instead of panelist as I took control of the RPG Designers Seminar. Joined by Sarah and Ian from Cubicle 7, the ever present Lewis (there as he’s written a fair bit of stuff for D&D) and the brilliant Eero Tuovinen, there was discussion on what’s good to play, how to get kids excited about RPGs, approaches to writing and much more. Again, the room was packed and a splendid time was had by all. More thanks are due to our esteemed guests – it was a pleasure, especially hearing how Finnish players are coerced into games. Basically it seems to boil down to kidnapping people who are smaller than you from malls and demanding they play… whatever works, I suppose!
The packed out Board Game Designers Panel. Initially terrifying. Ultimately fantastic.
A hastily grabbed sandwich (after realising I’d eaten all of one cereal bar in 8 hours) gave me a bit of an energy boost – well needed, as after watching a couple more demonstrations going out live, I was back upstairs for what was one of my highlights of the weekend – the Boardgame Designers Panel. Again, I was a bit nervous – after all, we had the cream of the crop all on one room. Tony and Alan from Suprised Stare, Gary and Steve of the Ragnar Brothers, John Yianni, Gordon from Fragor Games, David from Backspindle, Alessio Cavatore from River Horse and Martin Wallace – having them all gathered in the same place was amazing, and to be in charge of wrangling them all was an honour. Everyone was in grand form, the standing room only crowd had a pile of great questions that all the designers were happy to answer and there was plenty of banter flying about. A truly great hour – I only wish it could have been longer. Here’s hoping for a repeat next year.
Tony Boydell (Surprised Stare) demos Paperclip Railways. Mark looks on, impressed. Honest.
By now the halls were a little quieter, but there was still work to be done. I presented the final few videos of the day then had another wander around before packing up all our gear and heading back to the hotel for a break (and – of course – to watch Doctor Who). Steph and I got some dinner then returned to the Strathallen, but could we find a table? Nope. Some judicious hanging around meant we eventually got one, but by then everyone we saw was involved in a game, so we set up for a 2-player Alien Frontiers (where I snatched victory by having more Tech cards – I’ll take what I get). Again, it was getting late so we skulked back to the hotel knowing there’d be another early start on Sunday.
Which, of course, there was. There were also a couple of fire alarms in the night, which were not exactly conducive to sleep! Fuelled by crappy coffee and yet more cereal bars, Team UKGMN ran yet more demonstrations and live videos. Mark conducted an impromptu interview with Larry Roznai, the President of Mayfair Games and I had the pleasure of introducing Lewis’ “You can make a game, but can you make a good one?” Lew definitely had some interesting ideas – all of which you can find on his site: http://pulsiphergames.com/ – and one lucky attendee walked away with an unpunched 1986 copy of his classic Britannia (which I happened to have sitting in my collection and was in need of a new home).
More demonstrations followed at our area as the final day drew to a close. After a quick run around the halls to say goodbye to the many fantastic folks I’d met over the weekend (and grab a copy of AEG’s amazing War of Honor), it was time to pack up and leave Birmingham for another year. All in all, it was a tiring but amazing weekend – new friends were made, faces were put to many many names and a good time was had by all. Here’s hoping that the 2012 Expo will be as much fun!
Thanks to all the UKGMN team for your efforts – I honestly believe that we added something a bit special to the weekend. Cheers to everyone who watched our live stream and videos (especially those who helped out on Twitter on Friday morning as we were testing everything) and thanks to all the designers and publishers who came to demonstrate their games at our table. Massive gratitude has to go to the Expo staff who were all so helpful – special applause has to go to Richard Denning, the show organiser for letting us in to do our stuff. Finally, cheers to all the people who came up to me over the weekend with kind words to say about The Little Metal Dog Show – they were all greatly appreciated.
So… see you all at Essen?