The UK Gaming scene is blossoming. More than that: it’s blooming. And it’s bloomin’ loverly. You will know many British games, even if you didn’t know they were designed or published out of the UK. For example, you’ll no doubt be familiar with Manchester’s Martin Wallace (Brass, Age of Steam, Runebound, A Few Acres of Snow), and the global hit Hive is designed by our very own John Yianni.
“We can’t make a significant investment in our industry and support home-brewed talent for as long as there is not a profitable and self supporting UK industry”
But British gaming is lacking an identity on the world stage. We’re here and we need to be taken notice of.
But why is this important? The German and American gaming scenes dominate the industry. Particularly in mainland Europe (yes, I know, Brexit isn’t going to help us), hobby gaming is or is becoming a large part of their culture. But for British publishers and gamers we are still very much on the fringe. You may be surprised to know that British publishers for the main part do this as a part-time “hobby”; they have day-jobs outside of the industry. There are exceptions (e.g. Grublin Games), but they are certainly not the norm. We can’t make a significant investment in our industry and support home-brewed talent for as long as there is not a profitable and self supporting UK industry.
“There are two main issues: image and distribution.”
Hobby gaming is still not a mainstream pastime, and nor is it seen as a socially “normal” activity. Hobby gaming is the preserve of geeks and nerds. It’s not hip in our media-led society. Okay, I know this is not totally true. Just look around the UKGE in 2016 on a Saturday and you will see “normals” alongside geeks, with non-gamers, newcomers, couples and families flooding the halls.
What are the biggest problems the UK industry faces in turning around its fortunes? There are two main issues: image and distribution.
There is certainly an image problem in the UK with our industry. It’s not visible enough. Ask most people about board games and they will know nothing outside of Monopoly, Cluedo or Trivial Pursuit. We need to play games with our children and show the British public just how valuable a pastime it is. We have so much talent in this country – as evident at the UKGE – and generations of families are missing out on just what’s available.
The other problem is getting our products out there. There are some successful UK distributors, distributing international games throughout the UK and Europe, but that’s not enough, and certainly not enough to help British games hit the global market.
Anything anyone in the media can do to promote the industry is a worthwhile thing.
One of the stand-out features of the UK Games Expo is the dedication it shows to children’s games and games that can be played as a family. One of the biggest exponents in this area is Coiledspring Games. Based in Twickenham, they are a distributor who are introducing international products, for families in particular, to the UK market. They occupied a large section of Hall 1 at Birmingham’s NEC to bring these games to the British public and let them have a go at some entry-level gaming. If you ever want to bring your family to the UKGE but aren’t sure where to begin, look out for the inviting family zone. I particularly enjoyed their showings of Cornwall, CVlizations, Dragonwood and Super Tooth (look out for a review on Box of Delights soon!). But you can see right there, a reflection of the problem for UK designers and publishers: none of those games are British.
We have some great British publishers and designers, and some success is being had.
The Ragnar Brothers have picked up a distribution deal for their latest game, Niña & Pinta, with Esdevium Games, another big player in the UK distribution market, as well as getting one of their older titles (Viking Fury) re-released as Fire & Axe by Pandasaurus.
The aforementioned Hive is a huge success story for John Yianni and his publishing house Gen42. One to look out for, and showing this year at the UKGE, is Tatsu. I had the pleasure to sit down and play a game with John, and pick up a few game-play tips at the same time (lay traps with your stronger pieces in defensible pairs) . Of course I bought a copy, and encourage you all to take a look at this fascinating game.
Another up-and-coming independent UK publisher is Legend Express. Their production values look like those of a fully-fledged self-sufficient publisher, bringing games with an emphasis on “fun” to the UK, and as such are a great example of what British indies can do with relatively little resources. Burger Boss has strong Euro/worker-placement underlying game-play, packaged in a great looking burger case. It’s colourful, approachable, strategic, and an excellent game for a new family to get into the hobby. It’s fast-paced and will get everyone laughing around the table as you compete to create the best burgers with the best ingredients in your burger shack.
Another Legend Express title to look out for is the innovative Glimpse. Some of the players (the “Glimpsers”) will be wearing tinted glasses, rendering them colour-blind, and it will be coloured tokens that will tell the “Helpers” which characters the Glimpsers need to seek out. Without the benefit of colour to help them, the Helpers will need to use other ingenious methods to guide the Glimpser to the right cards. It’ll be kind of like Codenames (CGE) but with more acting, singing and dancing!
British designers really do know how to deliver a big slice of fun. Just look at this tosspot.. I mean “Toss Pot“:
Flipping a fry-up and catching it in your hat?! That’s how you make a family-fun game that’ll get the granny up and shaking a leg at christmas, and memories for the kids.
We don’t always take ourselves too seriously, and offer a innovative blend of strategy and theme, of Euro and Thematic; satisfyingly mid-way between the tightness and deterministic nature of the German euro-games, and the randomness and cinematic qualities of Ameritrash.
And that’s why you’ll find publishers like Yay, Burley, Big Potato, North and South and Wotan offering a diverse range of games for all types of gamers, looking to the industry to wake up and discover their talent and share it with the world.
Finally, let me give you my two HOT TIPS for games to look out for, and which I am really excited about seeing in the future. They were early prototypes at the Expo, but showed a heap-load of promise, and are just the kind of British games I want to promote and share with my viewers at Box of Delights.
The first is King’s Watch from Wotan Games, designed by Devon’s own Oliver Brooks. It looks fantastic. It’ll be very strongly story-driven, and highly co-operative, as players take on the role of “watchmen”, seeking out clues to solve a case and arrest a criminal. The game puts a strong influence on replay-ability, which is something special in a story-driven crime-solving game. It has a traditional “medieval” background, offering a unique theme in a familiar setting.
Next up, and one I hope to preview soon, is Legends Untold from Inspiring Games. This one was proving very popular at the Expo, as it demo’ed to get some player feedback. It’s a 1-8 player co-operative card-game, that aims to present a GM-free RPG experience in about an hour. With very little set-up time and a rich adventure driven story, with expandable scenarios to play, it promises much. Initially self-published by the Inspiring Games team vi Kickstarter, I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t picked up by an established publisher once it gets into its first production run. I’m very excited to show you this one too, so stay tuned!
We have a heck of a lot to be proud of and excited coming out of the British scene. Let’s do all we can to promote the hobby and make it the next hip thing…!