This weekend was the 2019 UK Games Expo! I went with my good friend Michael, on the Thursday night, to Coventry. This may at first blush seem odd for a convention in Birmingham, but the train station there is only a 10–15 minute ride from the NEC itself and the hotels there are much cheaper, so it seemed like a good idea to us. As it turned out, it was an excellent idea: the hotel was close to the station, the trains were cheap and relatively reliable, and the experience was altogether positive. I think we will try this again next year!
The convention itself is broadly split into three strands from my perspective: shopping, organised play, and demo games. I think those three strands also pretty neatly encapsulate my Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the convention, in some ways.
From the perspective of retail therapy, I didn’t actually buy much on the Friday but I got a couple of T-shirts from Shut Up & Sit Down and The Dark Room. Fred and Josh bought more than I did, but they left on the Friday night so that was probably mostly why. Amongst other group purchases, Josh got a tiny game called Microbrew by One Free Elephant, and Century: A New World, which we played on the Friday night before he left. It was really good, it does a good job of bringing the core Century spice mechanic to a worker placement game and I’m curious to see whether the combined games are any good. Honestly I’m tempted to pick up a copy for myself, since my little brother has Eastern Wonder and my parents have Spice Road. Microbrew was also good but surprisingly long and involved for a game that could fit in a mint tin, and Michael and Josh had to curtail the game so that we got over to an event that we were attending, sadly. On the Saturday and Sunday, I bought Sub Terra (which came with a free copy of Statecraft); a couple of Age of Rebellion books; an Arkham Horror LCG pack; a few Destiny cards; and Welcome to Dino World. Michael and I played the latter on the Sunday afternoon before leaving the NEC and it’s really good, I love it.
Organised Play was on the Saturday, and we were playing Arkham Horror: The Card Game between 10am and 5pm (in theory, we went half an hour longer in practice). This was organised by the fantastic Peter and Frank over at Drawn to the Flame. We were playing the two standalone scenarios from Guardians of the Abyss with Sarah and Tim. Michael and I were playing Jim and Zoey respectively, who are also the investigators we’re taking through the Dunwich Legacy. Tim was playing Ursula and Sarah was playing Diana, and their decks were really good; Diana was an incredible support character for the rest of us and Ursula is just so great at finding clues, it’s insane. I think Michael’s Jim deck did really well, and in fact did a great job of supporting us in combat, with Shrivelling(5) doing a lot of good work (doing a lot of the damage to both bosses!). We won the first scenario by deciding to kill Neith with 2 strength of the abyss, and most of the rest of the room agreed with that decision but didn’t get the strength down quite as much, so we started the second scenario with 4, and looked like we wouldn’t succeed for a while before somehow managing to pull it off. It was super fun, and I’m baffled and thrilled that we won both scenarios!
Events is sort of the two and a halfth strand of the expo for me. We went to two events on the Friday and Saturday evenings; the first was The Dark Room, which is a sort of live action improv comedy text adventure by John Robertson. This was my fourth time I think, but I was with Michael, Tony and Nicola, all of whom hadn’t been before. They all seemed to really enjoy it and I think it’s hilarious so I’m glad about that. Michael and I both bought T-shirts afterwards emblazoned with some of the catchphrases from the show. The Shut Up & Sit Down live podcast recording was on Saturday evening, and this was really good! They talked about several games, one of which we subsequently demoed (more details below) and also recommended Welcome to Dino World, which solidified my desire to buy a copy.
Demos are the third big part of the expo, and probably something I prefer to shopping; playing games is my jam! Michael, Josh and I demoed Welcome to Dino World and Dice Hospital early on Friday which were both really good, and then the three of us headed to the Fantasy Flight Games demos to see whether we could get a game of Outer Rim in. We ended up playing Discover: Lands Unknown instead, which from my perspective felt like a less interesting version of Seventh Continent but which I think my co-players enjoyed more than I did. We demoed Opozo: I’ve been told that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. We also got to demo Blood on the Clocktower, which I’ve been intensely curious about since Shut Up & Sit Down did a video review of it. It was excellent, probably my favourite hidden role game of that type so far. I’m excited to see it make it into retail channels, I’ll be watching it with great interest!
We then demoed Sub Terra II, which twists the first game by having you go deep into a temple before trying to escape again and which felt slightly less engaging to me — I’m not sure whether this is because the demo we played was less difficult than the game will be in actuality, but I’ll be curious to play it again once it’s out in the real world (it’s Kickstarting this autumn). NewSpeak is a game I’ve been curious about by the same company so we played that; my basic feel is that it’s not as good as Decrypto, The Chameleon, or Codenames, so I probably won’t pick it up. The last game we demoed was Outer Rim, which I went into with high hopes and which I was disappointed by. It felt slow, and there was very little to do on your turn. I’m not sure whether it would feel faster-paced once everyone was au fait with the rules, and I think it might be a worse way of implementing a similar idea to Firefly: The Game (although I want to replay that to check if I’m right).
On the Sunday, Michael and I demoed Quantified. This is a game that I think Shut Up & Sit Down talked about demoing at last year’s expo, and I was really glad that we got to play it because it was super, super good. I’ll be looking out for the Kickstarter later this year. The game that Shut Up & Sit Down recommended this year was Letter Jam, which I also really enjoyed and which I’ll be getting for my parents once it gets released to retail (not a Kickstarter! Gasp). The third game we demoed was Rome and Roll, a roll and write (ish) eurogame which Michael really liked (and might Kickstart, I think) but which I’m not sure I’d rush to play again (although I’d give it a go). The last demo of the expo was Chronicles of Crime, which is vaguely similar to Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective if you really squint. This one uses QR codes as a replacement for the codes you look up in a book, combined with VR examinations of the scenes of the crimes in order to tell a story in a similar way with questions posed at the end. We did well, but the case was rated ‘easy’, so I’m curious to know what the ‘hard’ cases are like.
The friends we met along the way
Of course, a fourth aspect of the con — and honestly probably one of the best bits — is seeing friends I don’t get to spend enough time with. This year, we met Claire, Fred, Josh and Rob and spent most of the day with them, also bumping into Alex, Dave and Farran; Tony, Ash, Nic, Graham and Dan; Jack (who now works at River Horse Games); some people from Michael’s work, some people from the Hampshire Hutt Cartel; and a variety of other people I know primarily through FFG’s Organised Play (in various guises). Michael and I didn’t spend much time with people other than the core six on the Friday, but we did play Home on Lagrange with Tony, Ash, Nic, Graham and Dan on the Saturday night which was super nice, even if the game itself was only okay. We also spotted Tim. Hail Tim!
While not actually friends, another super cool thing that happened was getting to meet Matt and Quinns from Shut Up & Sit Down (see the image at the top!) and also the very awesome people behind the Semi Co-Op webcomic1, who gave me stickers and a bookmark! I got a picture with both sets of people — they’re at the top and bottom of this blog post, and the rest of the photos I took are over on my Instagram.
One More Thing
A game I love called On the Underground which had a print run about a decade ago is being brought to Kickstarter later this year by LudiCreations, and I’d highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter and backing the eventual Kickstarter, as the game is amazing and now comes with a map of Berlin to play on!