In January I made some bold (read foolish) proclamations of intent to run a series of articles relating to how the hobby game industry functions within the UK, the intent is to take a peek at all levels from distributors, designers to us lowly bloggers. I thought it would be an interesting topic to cover, give me a great opportunity to speak to some of the brilliant folks behind the scenes meet some new faces and hopefully we can all learn something along the way.
So with that all in mind in the wee hours I ventured out into a very crisp English morning (that’s British for F’ing freezing) and trotted off up to olde London towne where they were holding the annual Toy Fair. For those of you expecting lots of carneys, clowns and merry go rounds with occasional balloon animals this is less Carousel and more Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Its a trade event where some of the biggest names in the toy world gather to tantalize and tease with lots of new products that will be found wedged under numerous Christmas trees about eleven months from now.
So anyhoo I decided that this would be a great place to start in my quest to see how this funny old cardboard obsessed business works and where better than at a toy fair, I was interested firstly to see how well represented the hobby game sector was in what I suspected is primarily high street retailer led.
OK so whilst it wasn’t a GenCon I didn’t go expecting such, Esdevium the UK’s biggest distributor of Hobby games had a pretty substantial stand slap bang in the middle of the arena, what was disappointing to me was that all of the proper games (in my opinion) were not out front and center these where taken up with Hotel Tycoon? I suspect it was getting the red carpet treatment as that is something that has been reprinted in-house and Dobble that was seeing plenty of demo attention. I kinda understand as its something simple to explain and the recently released junior version has also seem plenty of interest. The rear wall was given over to some wonderful goodies, it featured a chunk of Fantasy Flight goodness Star Wars Imperial Assault taking front and center, along with more big licensed stuff like Game Of Thrones etc and some perennial favorites like Pandemic and Carcassone. Most baffling on the demo table directly in front of this display was the game Pie Face.
I mean if you really wanted to attract passing interest would you rather have this.
OK OK I may be biased but just seemed a really random choice, i imagine pushed following Jonathan Ross had the Pie Face on his show at Christmas, ooh one thing I did spot that had arrived that very morning was this.
Now this wasn’t a completed copy it was just a mock up, but this had fallen off my radar and is now solidly back upon it.
Matt Leacock and co-operative Thunderbirds seems such a slam dunk I’m keen to see what he has come up with. Thunderbirds generally were a bit of a theme of the show appearing in one form or another on just about all the big stands, the new series is out in the spring and I believe that the plan is to Kickstart this, so I’d imagine that will be happening in the coming months leading up to the UK Games Expo in May.
Modiphius are the publishers and are UK based so i’ll see if I can’t dig up some more info on this project in the coming weeks.
A majority of the other big stands were Hasbro, Winning Moves, Ravensburger and Drummond park. There was nothing too thrilling to see here except what you’d expect more monopoly’s and more risk’s. Its shame as these are the guys the big retailers will be visiting and placing orders, and even in these pekier times of financial growth buyers are still unlikely to take a punt on what they still see as a niche area of the market.
Its not all doom and gloom, Habba had a stand and a decent showing of games and Coiled Spring had a good range of titles, a couple caught my eye. Rory’s Story Cubes had a prominent space and I was lucky enough to spend a while chatting to Rory himself who was in attendance and is obviously a fellow gamer. He was showing the two new licensed additions to the range Moomins which had me reminiscing to my misbegotten childhood of strange Scandinavian stop animation and even more exciting that that was the Batman set.
How cool is that, apparently he has a license agreement with Warner brothers for some other members of their stable but couldn’t disclose what they might be Godfather?? A sleeping fish dice, damn that’s Paramount, well too late now. Anyway these look wonderful and I can’t wait to nab a set in September when they become available.. Seems such a long way away.
He also pointed out that he’d slipped a Cthulhu reference into the new mini Rory 3 dice expansions that are incoming, which was cool.
Apart from chewing the fat in general on hobby games and the possibility’s that apps are bringing to our hobby he also pointed me to something else that Coiled Spring have on the slate for this year. Nefarious from Donald X Vaccarino, the designer of Dominion.
Out of print this was reprinted last year in a Russian language version with new art and it looks like this is the version that they will be bringing out. Its a game that has you playing as the mad scientist type and will probably go down a storm with the success of Despicable Me and those Minions. I will keep an eye out for this in the coming months.
Nestled over behind the Lego stand were they jolly nice chaps from 247 toys they are the exclusive distributors in the UK for the Gale Force 9 board games, those are the folks responsible for the Who Dares Rolls favorites Sparatacus and Firefly and have recently put out the Son’s Of Anarchy game of which I have just acquired and can’t wait to get a game in as it looks a hoot. They are hugely enthusiastic for the range and I managed to get a exclusive look inside the box of the new Homeland game that’s coming out this year.
It looks a great mix of the traitorous antics we all love a enjoy from Battlestar with some interesting tweaks on the genre. I really dig what Gale Force 9 are doing at the moment, they are consistently putting out solid licensed games that appeal to both gamers and those brought in by the license and are yet to produce a duffer in my opinion. We had a brief chat about the forthcoming Spartacus expansion Shadow Of Death that is set to spice up the arena combat even further and that they have another set in the pipeline to do even more with that, I want Armored Rhino’s and Tigers, Chariots! OOH. They also imparted news of a new license that they have that will utilize the Spartacus arena battles in a new and interesting way, I’m not talking about the Marvel battle this is something else. I’m sworn to secrecy but as a hint it might well give Luchador a run for its money, it might even cause a Royal Rumble and I suspect its set to be be quite popular. They have a copy of the game and it will be officially announced Tomorrow at the show.
They have also recently acquired the UK distribution for Super Dungeon Explorer from Soda Pop Miniatures the figures look amazing and its a series that I’ve fence sat on for a while. But it did look really sweet. It was great to meet a team who obviously have a passion for our hobby and a great product to sell and I wish them well and will certainly be catching up with these guys soon to see what else is coming down the line.
Was remiss in this original article that I didn’t mention that Joluet Games launched a fun looking new word game called Turbo Words. This is Scrabble style word game that adds a bunch more player interaction allowing you to steal other players letters and apply timers to choices adding a much needed chunk of interaction missing from most games of this ilk. Its aimed at family’s and they were gracious to pass me a copy so me and the fam will break this out in the coming weeks and we’re see how it plays.
I also literally bumped into Andrew Harman the designer of Frankensteins Bodies a favorite of mine involving body part snatching and lots of take that style fun and games, he was there with a new game that we didn’t get to play but involves building sandcastles and obviously kicking them over. Its a neat theme that I don’t think I’ve encountered before and I really dig his stuff so keep an eye out for that hitting Kickstarter soon.
So there you go, its clear that we have a way to go yet before we see many of our beloved games on the high street, but at least there are some distributors willing to get behind them. I’ve not been to the show for many years, but from my vague age weathered recollections there certainly wasn’t the board game presence we are seeing now. I’m fulling intending to go back next year and see if anything has changed. I feel that I should have come to some well rounded and satisfying conclusion so instead as a distraction.
So any parents? wonder what your be assembling on the big day this year? It looks like Dinosaurs, Star Wars and Thunderbird’s for the boys and Frozen for the girls, which also contained one of the most ridiculous item’s I saw, a re-branded web shooter from Spiderman now called Elsa’s Magic Snow Sleeve?? I kid you not.
Have fun gaming.