The UK Games Expo has been and gone. For the first time in a number of years I head over to Birmingham for the day to see exactly how much it has changed since my last attendance in 2012.
“Ugh! It better be good” I thought as I dragged my carcass out of bed at 0715 Saturday morning. Getting me up at that time is either boardgames, Softball or my stupid neighbours making a racket. It is usually the former and it was in this case. Head down onto the train from Manchester to Birmingham sharing a carriage with a chap in a rather swanky Superman cosplay outfit, obviously heading to the NEC too and a bunch of drunk Scousers laughing at the guy in a ‘Batman’ outfit on the train. I don’t know what was worse, the name calling, the fact that they were hammered at 0830 or that they couldn’t tell the difference between Superman and Batman (even I know that and I’m not a geek)!
I have not been to the NEC for about 15 years and I didn’t see much of it when I went then. I got there at about 1015 and there was a huge queue to get entrance tickets. However the cashiers were rattling through the queue at an excellent rate of knots and within 15 minutes I was in.
The queue for entrance tickets
As soon as I got through the doors of the main trading hall I bumped into a few friends who had just joined the queue for the bring and buy and talked me into going in with them – although I was trying to avoid the bring and buy. It took about half an hour to get in and I probably spent just as long in there looking at all the stuff on offer – which there was a lot of. I was trying to keep my spending to a minimum and there was a few items that caught my attention at a reasonable price, but it was a copy of Spike for £15 that turned up that broke my resolve and had me plucking games from the tables. There was the usual thing going on there with people asking for more than the new price of the game that was available elsewhere at the expo or wanting really stupid amounts of money for rare games, good luck guys, but there was bargains to be had. One thing of note for people selling at the bring and buy in future is that they were stacking the games on their sides rather than flat, due to space issues, and some of the boxes were falling open and contents were spilling onto the table. Make sure that your game is bagged up nicely, even writing on the bags which game they belong to, ideally with an elastic band or two around it to stop the box falling open while on its side.
We had a wander around the grounds outside the main hall and the lakeside was really nice with a couple of Viking stands offering all sorts of wares for sale. It was a glorious day and there was a beer trailer. Happy days.
The lakeside and some outdoor vendors in the distance
We headed back into the main hall and had a look around the rest of the show to see what was on offer. There was some large booths, there was some tiny ones. I met loads of friends while wandering around and I saw some weird and wonderful stuff and had some very interesting conversations with people working at the show, the volunteers and the punters.
What caught my attention? One of the bigger releases was Sub Terra from ITB games. I didn’t get to try it but spoke to enough people to get the feel that it was a good game and there was a buzz about it at the show. One of the things that annoyed people was the fact that ITB were selling the base game at the show when people who have kickstarted it won’t get their copy for a couple of months. ITB made it clear on their kickstarter that this would happen when the KS was running many months ago. I know this for a fact as I backed it, but yet people were still bleating on about it. This annoyed me somewhat that people were so grumpy when they knew the score when they signed up for the kickstarter. If you don’t like it, don’t back it. Simple. You got it for a hugely cheaper price with a load of extra goodies that are not in the standard game. ITB were very clear that they would do this and I hope that the game is as good as it appears to be.
Laser Squad by 8 Bit Games looked really interesting. It did catch my attention when I was researching the show and I wondered if it was an implementation of the 80’s Amstrad CPC game. It is. Chatting to the lady at the booth she told me that they had only just literally got the prototype ready which they were demoing and they hope to kickstart it around September time.
Laser Squad prototype
Board&Dice were in attendance and their offering Pocket Mars was getting a lot of attention. Chatting to them they had driven 22 hours from Poland – where they are based – over to Birmingham and they had had a really good show. It was good to hear that the effort was rewarded. I picked up a copy and got to play it Sunday night and it is pretty good.
What else did I learn from my time at the Expo, one thing I heard a couple of times was from UK publishers is that they are going to concentrate on the UKGE rather than Essen from now on, maybe not even attending Essen (what?!) admittedly these are smaller publishers but it goes to show the growing attraction of the Expo. All of the traders there that I spoke to were doing or had done really good business. I was hearing lots of positive stuff coming from the traders.
I was chatting to other attendees and while their experience was mostly positive they were grumbling about some issues, not enough open gaming space in the evenings (at least they have gaming space in the evenings Essen has very little and isn’t open in the evening), car parking charges, queues at the bring and buy, the food on offer was not to their liking, expensive or both (I thought it was fine, inflated yes, but not eyewateringly so and was better than food I have had elsewhere), but I think that they were being over-critical for what is an event that is run on a not for profit basis.
I heard on the grapevine that the attendance figure jumped again to well over 16,000 unique visitors from around 12,600 in 2016, with more and more interest growing in the hobby and the event, I can only see this number rising as well as the event spreading into the other halls at the NEC.
Not Alone from Geek Attitude Games – close call for the good guys
My initial impression when I got into Hall 1 was ‘Essen’. It felt like I was at Spiel. The lighting, the layout of the booths, the buzz, although a smaller version of it. However the thing that Spiel don’t have is the volunteers. These are people who give up their time and money to give something back to the hobby that they love so much.
My only complaint was that I didn’t have enough time to do everything that I wanted, but I don’t have anyone else to blame but myself on that one. Maybe I may need more than one day next year.