Sunday, 28 June 2015

UK Games Expo 2015 - Evolutionary Steps

I received some (well deserved) abuse during my visit to UK Games Expo 2015 as every so often I compared what UK Games Expo had to offer versus what Gen Con 2014 had.

Now to be fair to me (!) I wasn't doing it to downplay what UK Games Expo had achieved, it was mostly coming from a "If they had this then it would be better." type of perspective.

So what are those evolutionary steps that UK Games Expo could take?

Honestly some of them they have taken already -
  • Bigger venue - With the move of the trade halls and some of the tournaments out of the Hilton and into the NEC from next year the con will have more space to grow into.
  • Better range of food - Now this was my first time at UK Games Expo but from what I heard the inclusion of the food trucks (and beer bus!) made a big difference to the choices and prices available.
  • Hilton better prepared - Again I've not been before but most of the complaints (if you can call them that) of previous years were down to the Hilton underestimating the demand and as such not having enough facilities available.  They fixed that by putting on lots of mini-bars throughout the hotel to distribute the traffic.  Even if they couldn't get their pricing consistent between them this made a difference.  They could've done with more staff / locations for coffee though...
So what other steps can they take? Keep in mind that these are "in my opinion" suggestions only and are all likely things that the organisers already have on their to-do lists.

More event diversity at registration

Now I'm not talking about RPGs or tournaments here.  The key difference between what Gen Con's event catalogue had to what UK Games Expo had was the array of events available.

Where were the "Introductory" events?

UKGE had lots of tournaments for board games, card games, miniature games and war games alongside a great selection of RPGs. Where were the "Learn to play Battletech / Warhammer / Carcassonne / Magic: The Gathering etc" events? I know they had a Yu-Gi-Oh zone and Asmodee/Esdevium and other manufacturers had demo space but it wasn't enough (due to space mostly) and also it couldn't be planned in (well I dunno about the Yu-Gi-Oh as I didn't go near that).

I'd like to see more events (not necessarily publisher/retailer driven) that could be booked for a nominal fee that enabled guaranteed "play" time.  Some of this stems from my frustrations at there being no game space but it also meant that as I wasn't RPGing or indeed Clixing or Wargaming I largely had no plan of what to do when there.  This was absolutely fine as I did enjoy that but I would have liked to see (and sign up for) more things.

More publishers / manufacturers

This is bit of a challenge I suspect given the relatively small contingent of UK based publishers that we have compared to Gen Con.  It isn't however about scale it's about market recognition.

UKGE had 7,000 unique people at it this year, that's one eighth the size of Gen Con last year. As such it deserves to be better recognised as a global event for the hobby and should be reaching out to manufacturers across the world to attend.

With those comes a greater size of demo space required. If nothing else I'd like to see more space for publishers to demonstrate their games.

That's it really.

If the con is able to grow organically as it seems to have done over the past few years and provide greater access to the hobby as part of that growth through more options of things to do then I can see it becoming ever more important to the hobby.

I've written several other posts about Conventions and what they should do.

If you want to read them here they are in a list. Feedback appreciated!

Conventions: What do you want? Written from an organiser's perspective.
Conventioneering.  What people want from a convention in general terms.
Conpulsion 2014 - The negatives. Where it went wrong and what is needed to move forward.
The Scottish Tabletop Games Convention Scene. Current status and why that is.
Building a Tabletop Games Convention. What's involved in creating a convention.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

UK Games Expo 2015 - Part 4

Of course after commenting in the last post about using the word Two rather than the number 2 I forgot to append the year onto the post.  Argh!

Anyway, there's a convention report to wrap up!

UK Games Expo 2015 - Day Three

So the Sunday morning wasn't as bad as I expect due to +Greg Barr plying me with drink...  I did my "usual" though...

What does that mean?  Well with my day job I do a reasonable amount of travelling, mostly to Manchester which has the added benefit of meaning I get to pop into Fan Boy Three.  Anyway, I'm used to getting up on the last day of a trip and basically being packed and ready to go far too early.  Not sure when that started but anyway, I did the same this time around.  Woke up at 7, showered, dressed, breakfasted, bag packed, bag put into car and checked out all before 8:30.

Given there were 4 of us in the car on the way down and even though my i30 has a reasonably sized boot I did wonder how we were going to fit all of our purchases in.  Similar challenge to the one I had coming back from Gen Con of trying to fit everything into the 1 case but this time I had other factors to consider.  Not least of which was the haul of games bought by Greg, +Ross Hendry and +richard talbot. Fortunately Greg had managed to re-sell his 2 EXTRA copies of Star Wars : Armada that he'd bought on the Friday to people he was playing D&D with and also fortunately Richard had managed to arrange for someone else to take his more bulky purchases back up the road with them.  So that really should have made it easy to get everything in the car, right?

Well my purchases were fairly modest (for me) -

So that's Tsuro Of The Seas, Vikings, Noir (Black Box Edition), Timeline : General Interest, Lords Of Scotland, Wager Master for SOTM, Guise for SOTM, OMNITRON IV for SOTM, Monster Cafe, Cockroach Poker (no I don't know why!), Biblios and Khrysos Hunters (again not sure why). Plus a dice bag, some dice and a UK Games Expo T-Shirt.
Pretty much all of that fitted into my suit case and Gen Con bag so at least I wasn't needing any more space.
Ross needed the most (he bought lots of board games) and Greg has no willpower.

So I'd got my case into the car and went for some last few hours of browsing. We'd aimed to leave no later than 2pm so there was a fair bit of time for random last minute purchases.

I took more time going round the trade halls on the Sunday, really just trying to identify (beyond the obvious gaming retailer and publisher ones) what the other traders were. There were a few artists there (including Wayne Reynolds of D&D / Pathfinder fame) and you had the obligatory t-shirt sellers too.  I think because of the way the con had to split up the traders though there was a definite feel (for me at least) that the smaller traders were almost "relegated" to the smaller halls. Probably unavoidable to a certain extent but it was a bit odd.

The play space was as ever completely maxed out right up til the point that we left which for a Sunday at a con I was pleasantly surprised by.  I think that is a great testament not only to the con itself but the audience it's built up and nurtured over the past 10 years.

Ross, Greg and I met up for some lunch in the restaurant whilst Richard was off doing stuff at the British Isles Traveller Society stand.  This was a reminder that a) the price of food was a bit high and b) the food whilst decent wasn't actually that good.  That said though it filled us up.
The topic of "If we were to organise a con what would we do?" resurfaced and more brainstorming was done of what could be done.  As ever Greg knew which buttons to press with me and I probably (likely) went into semi-rant mode.

After lunch there was time for another circuit before meeting up with Richard and the game of "does it all fit into the car".  We successfully completely this puzzle like the expert gamers that we are and with that said farewell to UK Games Expo 2015.

The drive home was relatively painless even if we did get lost trying to find diesel for the car before hitting the motorway (was a necessary stop for supplies though).

Safe to say that I had a really good time as did everyone I met.  The con has a bright future and with 2016 involving a split site model by using part of the NEC I think it could be a very interesting time.

I have some thoughts on what could be done differently next year but I'll save those for another post...

Monday, 22 June 2015

UK Games Expo - Part 3

I realised after posting Part Two (rather than 2) that I'd used the word rather than the number. Completely unplanned as that was it reminds me how out of the habit of this blogging I am.

Anyway, onto matters more pressing.

UK Games Expo - Day Two

The hordes descend…  If there was any kind of indication that the Hilton was struggling to contain the con it was proven on the Saturday when the numbers increased substantially.

I had noticed ahead of the con that I had those tell tale signs of a cold coming on. Saturday was when it really hit home.  Breakfast was accompanied by Lemsip before the day's exploration began. Breakfast was accompanied by a long and healthy chat with a fellow DWARF - Richard Coates.

I've got a lot of time for Richard and his musings on the hobby and life in general. He epitomises the generation of board gamer before me in that it's all about the experience of play and that respectful air for things that are not of his liking.  He flooded me with enthusiasm for board games which is probably Richard's one true love besides his family of course.

Anyway, after breakfast it became clear that the Hilton was indeed bursting at the seams.  Gamers of all shapes, sizes, ages and interest levels had descended on the venue.  Families aplenty, which is a marvellous thing to witness, all equally eager to explore and be entertained.

With this influx though came a different challenge for the con.  No space whatsoever.  None. No wonder they're having to look at the NEC for next year's show.

To counter that and given that +Greg Barr was playing D&D all day I'd agreed with +Ross Hendry that we'd hit the Playtest zone at some point on the Saturday.  What's a Playtest zone? Well it's an opportunity for the budding game designer to show off their wares and get immediate feedback on their product.  It was organised by the fine folks at who organise meetups across the country (well England) where people can try out the newest games being developed.

The game we played was Turistico.  It was (and I hope the designers don't mind the comparison) essentially Ticket To Ride re-skinned as a tour operator game where you have to take your tourists round specific routes in London.  I reference Ticket To Ride not just due to the theme but mechanically the game was similar.  You collect "tickets" which instead of buying you trains bought you taxi, subway, bus and walking routes between the various sites of London.

All in all it was a solid enough game albeit I found it a) a bit long and b) not quite my cup of tea. I enjoy Ticket To Ride but Turistico didn't quite hit the mark for me. In the hour that we played it we got through half of the game and also there was 1 turn where I couldn't do anything. To be fair to the designers that was something new to them and they both took notes to look at that.

Having played Turistico my Lemsip was wearing off so Ross and I split up.  I went back to my room and lay down for an hour. Something I was thankful of later on.

After more purchases (full list to come in the next post) I met up with a few others for food outside at the food trucks.  With my body refueled with Lemsip and quality food we went back inside to find a place to play more games. Ross and I played Fantasy Flight Game's Age Of War with Dougie and Laura.  I'd seen it on a number of the stalls and had picked it up only to put it back down again.

It's a dice game (by Reiner Knizia) set in Feudal where the players are trying to take control of various houses or clans.  It played well but the trouble with dice games is that if the dice aren't with you then the game can drag on, this unfortunately was one of those occasions.  I think we had 3 or 4 turns where nobody did anything other than roll dice and get frustrated.  That aside it was a fun game of pushing your luck to match symbols with each clan's house to take control of it.  In the end though I decided it wasn't something I wanted to buy.

After Age Of War we met up with Scott and Michelle who had just played Colt Express and subsequently bought it.  We searched for about 30 minutes to find an open space and finally got a table big enough for 6 to play it.
Colt Express was one of the hit games at UK Games Expo and has a had a LOT of really good press. I try not to get caught up in the hype of a game though and on this occasion I was glad of that restraint... Suffice to say I wasn't impressed.
It's very cool to look at and it's got some nice mechanics but on the second play through I decided to take a very different approach.
The game is based on making a number of actions, some public and some hidden, where you're trying to move your character along the train collecting loot and gems and ultimately avoiding the sheriff. 1st time through I paid attention to what everyone else was doing and tried to counter their moves whilst still trying to collect the loot.  This seemed to work out ok but there was something not quite right about it.  On the 2nd time of playing I took that different approach. I basically ignored all the plays of each of the other players unless they moved the sheriff.  Only then did I re-think my strategy and the end result?  I won. By a country mile.
So by essentially playing against the game (rather than the players) I won.  That didn't feel right. Most of the others seemed to enjoy it but it just isn't a game I'd want to play again (sorry Scott).

After that it was coming up to 11pm and the others were looking for an early night.  I'd said to Greg that I'd meet him in the bar for a drink post his D&D games so after dropping my bag off in my room I did just that.

What followed was a fair amount of beer and a lot of chat. Greg knows which buttons to press with me and we talked about KoA, my former employees, how we ARE going to Gen Con next year (although I don't remember signing any paperwork to guarantee that) and latterly about the convention scene in Scotland...  It was soon approaching 3am and I knew I had the drive back up the road on Sunday so we called it a night but not before what was probably an hour of "If we were to organise a con what would we do?" chat.  More on that to come methinks...

Oh and 1 last thing before I bring the Saturday to a close.  The ATM in the hotel ran out of money. This would prove to be a mistake on the part of the hotel as it wasn't replenished on the Sunday which meant a number of traders that were cash only probably lost out.

Anyway, next post will be about Sunday, my purchase pile and then some retrospective on the con itself and what refinements I think they should consider for next year and beyond.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

UK Games Expo 2015 - Part Two

UK Games Expo - Day One

Let the con begin!
We had planned to meet for breakfast but we all failed miserably at meeting at the same time.  Perils of my body clock meant I woke up at 5am but fortunately I was able to get back to sleep.
Breakfast (and parking at the hotel) are all included in the room rate which is great and does make the approach of staying on-site much more reasonable.

So on Day One what did I do?
Well I played lots of games, mostly through use of the Board Game library system they have at the con which is provided by Thirsty Meeples game cafe. £10 deposit and you can borrow 1 game at a time to play. Nice and simple really.

Games played on Day One were -
  • Mr Jack - Greg and I tried this 2 player game which I'd discounted from my to-buy list because it's "only" a 2 player game. More fool me as it's a fun game of deduction where 1 player is Jack The Ripper and the other is a detective trying to deduce which of the characters in the game is secretly Jack. It benefits from very simple mechanics and pretty fast game play and overall was a lot of fun. Does that mean it goes onto my to-buy list? No, 2 player games just won't get the table time unfortunately... If that were to change however then yes it probably would.
  • Ventura - Greg and I tried this one too, largely down to an ENT related reason.  At ENT in 2015 we've played games starting with all the letters of the alphabet other than V and X so I wanted a look at this.  Made by FFG so lots of bits but we got the hang of it pretty quickly and for a game that is essentially an area control game with some bells and whistles it was pretty light although I suspect if played with more people (2-4) it could be very tactical.  Is it on my to-buy list? Not sure but it's in that neck of the woods.
  • Noir - One of my purchases from the convention. It ticks a number of boxes for me; deduction, good range of players and it has a variety of "modes" which keeps the game quite fresh. Greg, Ross and I played one of the modes suitable for 3 players and after a few minutes we'd all got the hang of it and were scratching our heads trying to deduce who each other was amongst an array of 25 spies.  Sorta "Guess Who" but with a lot more to it as you arrange the grid to get closer to your suspect before capturing them.
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf : Daybreak - So I own the non-Daybreak version of this bluffing game and have to say I won't be buying this version... The additional roles are a bit more clunky than the core game and it certainly seemed to make it harder for the Werewolves to bluff their way through the game. Played it with a group of 7 (Douglas, Laura, Scott, Michelle, Ross and Greg) and whilst it was fun it's not as good as the original.
Other highlights of the day were the Beer Bus and the food trucks.
Last year the con didn't have these and I think the consensus of people I've spoken to is that these are a winner. Good food and decent beer go a long way to improving the overall experience.  The hotel seemed to have a bizarre pricing policy as depending on which bar you went to and at which time you went some beers were varying from £3.50 to £5 a pint for the same beer... One of the few real negatives of the event.

The trade halls don't compare with Gen Con and it'd be unfair to really compare them given the scale difference.  Good selection of stands albeit it seemed to be heavily retailer focussed rather than publisher focussed. Now that might just be a perception thing but that's what I took away from Day One.

Purchase wise I picked up -
  • Noir (as mentioned earlier)
  • 2 mini-expansions for Sentinels Of The Multiverse
  • Monster CafĂ© (as it reminded me of an iPad game my daughter plays)
  • Lords of Scotland which looks good
  • Cockroach Poker (another bluffing game) and 
  • Timeline General Interest.  Timeline is a game I was highly sceptical of at first but having played it at PEGS launch I think there's a good knowledge game there and of course it's semi-educational.
I also picked up 5 copies of the new Tabletop Gaming magazine which is being launched at the con. They aren't all for me (obviously) and I am slightly confused by a new print magazine but it looks professional and has the backing of a publisher that makes a variety of other niche market magazines so time will tell.

The night of Day One ended with some more beer and chat, Day Two (Saturday) was looking like being the busiest day for attendees so we shall see what that brings.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

UK Games Expo 2015 - Part 1

So after Gen Con last year I decided that 2015 would be the year I went to UK Games Expo.

Not since the days of Gen Con UK has the UK had a suitable equivalent to the big convention that North American and indeed other countries have had available to the fan base.

My approach to UK Games Expo was always going to be very different to the one I took for Gen Con last year.  There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that Gen Con was pretty much a one off in terms of budget and and represented a long held ambition to go.
I do want and indeed plan to return but simply put the costs associated with getting to Gen Con are not something I can do every year and probably not even every other year.  So financially UK Games Expo was a better option in 2015.
Alongside that though Gen Con 2014 had D&D 5th Edition "launching" at it as well as the added element of being the main event that publishers focus their release schedule around.  It also has a very different set up in that intro games and demos etc are all part of the event booking system and so if you fancied trying out Battletech Alpha Strike or the latest game from Fantasy Flight Games you could book a slot.  That makes for a much more structured schedule.
UK Games Expo only (not the fairest word) has pre-booking for Tournaments and RPGs.  None of which really formed "must do" items on my agenda.  So if there is something I think they could do better / add to their set up for next year and beyond it'd be to add more pre-booked events.  The approach of turn up and hope to get a table / game is great when there's acres of free space but as I've learned whilst being here that space is in short supply within the venue, which supports the plans that the organisers have to expand into the NEC.  More thoughts on that to come.

So here's part 1 of my diary of UK Games Expo 2015.

UK Games Expo - Day Zero

M6 is an unpredicatable motorway at the best of times but the Thursday was one of those days where I was reminded of how troublesome it can be.
Everything went according to plan up to our rest stop at Westmorland services. Ok so Greg will probably point out that we left Westmorland 15 minutes later than the "Travel Plan" said we would but overall no problems.

The M6 was frustrating for about an hour with the Google Maps app suggesting we should leave the motorway on a number of occassions but that would only really benefit us by 5 minutes here and there so we stuck it out on the M6.

By the time we got past Manchester it was looking like we would be 2 hours behind schedule which whilst not a real problem was frustrating... So we stopped off at Sandbach services for a quick "comfort break" and a Magnum ice cream (well I had one anyway).  When we rejoined the M6 things seemed to be better and once we got onto the M6 Toll (All 5.50 earth pounds of it) we zoomed through to the hotel and were parked by 1815, only an hour behind schedule and in time to pick up our badges etc so all good.

Richard was staying elsewhere (perils of free accommodation as part of GMing Traveller all weekend) so Ross, Greg and I checked in to our rooms at the Hilton before grabbing some dinner and beer.  On the Thursday night the con is fairly quiet with 2 open play zones available. The first was organised by Coiled Spring Games who distribute a variety of "family friendly" games including those produced by Gamewright, makers of Forbidden Desert. Unfortunately the room was packed with no tables available for gaming so we ditched that (although we acquired more beer first) and then headed to the Marquee where the open gaming area was.  Now fortunately I had brought some games with me to play - Love Letter, Bang (The Dice Game), Dragon Slayer and Get Lucky.  After several games of those (none of which I won, including Dragon Slayer) we called it a night.

Day Zero was done.