PART 1 : UK Games Expo 2016 – Post Expo Report

imageIf there was one message I took away from the UKGE 2016 it was that British tabletop gaming is ready for the international stage. More on that in PART 2…… #UKGB

The UK Games Expo was celebrating its 10th anniversary, and for the first time it occupied a new venue: Hall 1 at Birmingham’s NEC. It was 3 days of gaming, 3 days of meeting people, 3 days of madness. More than 20,000 visitors were clocked-up across the weekend at this, the UK’s biggest tabletop and role-playing games convention.

The exposition started for me on the Thursday afternoon, where I took the opportunity to meet up with Paul (Gaming Rules!), Jon (Acualol), Efka and Elaine (No Pun Included) prior to our seminar on Friday morning. It was also an opportunity to get a sneak peek at some of the games on show and meet some of the publishers, designers and other industry folks as we anticipated the weekend to come.

IMG_3379It was a personal pleasure to meet Tony Boydell and buy a copy of the much anticipated Guilds of London (TMG) before it sold out at the show.

It’s clear Tony has spent all this time finely balancing the 105 action cards and 45 guild tiles to create a game of extensive replayability and tight decision making. IMG_3479Guilds of London is primarily an area-control game, but your influence over the table is governed by careful hand-management, maximising the potential of your cards and combining them in innovative ways. It’s this depth that will keep you coming back for more, and what prompted the rush to empty the shelves of this game.

In the evening we shared some table-time as we played a game we both really enjoyed – the upcoming Codenames: Pictures (CGE). Presented by Paul Grogan, Tony and I particularly enjoyed taking on the role of “spymaster”, offering a single word and single number as a clue to identify as many of the pictures in front of us that belong to our team, and not the opponent’s. IMG_3382

The concept is the same as the original Codenames, which used words instead of pictures. What made Codenames:Pictures more interesting is that each picture could be interpreted in many ways and with each picture containing a number of elements. The difficulty is in trying to offer a clue that does not inadvertently misdirect your agents to an opponent’s picture, whilst also trying to leave pictures in play that make your counterpart spymaster’s job more difficult. It’s a wonderful addition to the series, and is one that will be high on my “to-buy” list.

IMG_3383On the same table (they were long tables!) Efka Bladukas was teaching a group, amongst whom were Sam Healey and Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower, to play upcoming Scythe from Stonemaier Games. It’s a beast, looks beautiful, and is on-type [for Stonemaier] with its blend of Euro and Thematic, its wooden cubes and finely cast miniatures. It also has a solo mode using the Automa system developed by Morten Monrad Pedersen.

Another new acquaintance was Gil Hova, the designer and founder behind Formal Ferret Games. Gil was delighted to share a game of his upcoming design Prolix, over a pint of in the bar of the Hilton hotel. The game challenges you to think of a word that uses as many of the letters in tableau, with each word’s position in the tableau determining its points value, and with some letters offering a points bonus. e.g. if the tableau has B and D you might choose “befuddled”, which will score both letters. The mechanism that gives Prolix its USP is the mechanism that says the first person to think of a word turns over a sand timer, giving the rest of the players on 30 seconds to find a better word; this player will get a bonus 2 points if no-one can better their score.

Fancy a try? Imagine Prolix offers the following tableau (note, the two letters on the far left – R & C – offer 5 points, not 4 as printed): IMG_3380

What word can you think of that uses the most of these letters to score you the most points? I’ve thought of a word, so you have 30 seconds to beat it. Off you go…! (p.s. let’s assume were using the British yes of Z – e.g. “recognise” not “recognize”).

My word was “cranberry”. This scores 20 points as follows: IMG_3381

How did you do? If you didn’t beat 20 points then I get a bonus 2 points. I can tell you, when you see that 30 second timer running down it really hinders your ability to think of a good word, and you end up sticking with the first thing you think of (e.g. “can”!). Look out for this in 2017. A great filler for gamers of all ages and abilities.

Gil’s 2016 release, and one I also bought on the day from the top of my wishlist, was The Networks. Once more this was a game that sold-out at the show, and it’s great fun. You can watch an interview with Gil here, where he introduces his game:

Friday was a busy day….

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 23.32.33Starting with the Press Preview and swiftly followed by the YouTube seminar. I was rather worried us on the panel were going to outnumber the audience, but fortunately a good audience turned up (were they saving their seats for Dice Tower Live?!) and we got a good number of questions. This was more fun than I expected it to be, and if you’d like to see it, you can watch Efka’s video here:

I had a shortlist of games I wanted to jump on during the Press Preview. Except everyone I spoke to was so engaging, and I had my chatterbox head on, that I only got to see a few.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.40.56Amongst those was Mystic Vale, an upcoming release from AEG. Look out for it, it looks like a winner. The “card-building” mechanism, layered on to a more traditional deck-building game, looks sure to catch on….  as long as they are able to include enough variety.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.41.30The base set will introduce the game and its concepts, with further expansions planned to add depth and complexity. I was concerned about the costs of their clear plastic cards and added card sleeves, but it sounds like they have their production method sorted and have managed to make it economically sound. There is a highly addictive push-your-luck element, as you try to build irreversible effects onto your blank cards, as well as developing combinations with other cards.

IMG_2322For the soloist, Dice City offers a variant, and I enjoyed a demonstration of how this plays. IMG_2321With dice-placement becoming a popular mechanic, and with expansions on show, it’s a great time to pick up this title and share with it friends or as a light-hearted solitaire distraction.

Also at the Esdevium stand was Pandemic: Cthulhu. I didn’t see anything new in the mechanics of the game, but it looked fantastic. Let  me share a couple of pictures with you before we wrap up…IMG_2318 IMG_2319

One personal interest in the hobby is to promote British gaming and to understand how British gaming can make a bigger name for itself on the international scene, apparently dominated by American and mainland European publishers and designers.

The truth is, the UK gaming scene is bigger than ever, and there are probably more British designers and publishers out there than you realised.

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In Part 2 of the post-expo report we’ll address this further, and look at some of the new designers and new games coming out of the UK .