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To the EXPO and Beyond Part 1

by on June 8, 2016
 

Being the proper and correct account of the misadventures of Mike B and his belligerent and overworked lackey Chris B.

As of this writing the UK Games EXPO 2016 is done, dusted, she’s dead Jim. Somewhere in the region of LOT’S of gamers, families, kids and wobbly Daleks made their way to the NEC Birmingham this past weekend. And I don’t think it comes as any sort of surprise to say that it was epic.

Now in its 10th year, the convention has exponentially grown shedding locations, hotels and the occasional marquee like a Chameleon getting ready for a hot date, landing itself quite correctly where it always deserved to have been at the NEC Hall 1. And on Friday 3rd, June the hanger like doors of the massive structure lumbered open and a hoard of board game, miniature, and role-playing fans dutifully after a damned good queue (we’re British after all) politely marched forward and into UK gaming history.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted is the massive amount of work, dedication, and effort it’s taken on behalf of the organisers Richard and Tony. They mustered Kevin Costner like levels of belief in that if they built it we would come, although it could be said they have surpassed even that being not so much a field but stadium of dreams.
And I’d be remiss not to also extend my gratitude and utmost respect to the team of volunteers who give up their EXPO experience every year so that we can have ours. These are players and fans from all walks of life hailing from across the country who don a yellow shirt and work tirelessly behind the scenes.

So next time pause before you blithely spew any vitriolic feelings of entitlement across social media, bemoaning how you had to queue for this or wait for that or how the Bring and Buy should be the size of a football field or you could only see Tom Vasel’s left ear in a seminar. Chances are somebody gave up their fun so that you could have yours if you really care about making things better then its easy volunteer your services, make the show better channel that passion. Or failing that keep it to yourself old chap.

This has been a party political paragraph on behalf of the stop filling my feed with your nonsense party.

IMG_1583What a difference a year makes.

So the last EXPO was a treat, but it was clear that we had hastily outgrown the Hilton and the murmurings had turned to the NEC and the show moving there. I did have a chance to sit with Richard last year and discuss some of his aspirations for the move, although the Viking longboat ferrying visitors across the lake failed to materialize that’s more down to Richards vision outreaching his grasp, then anything organizational and you can’t knock a man for having dreams. But what we did get was the show that we knew the EXPO could be, it’s no underestimation to say that we are now recognized on the world stage and are easily counted amongst the top 5 I’d go so far as even 3.

I say it every year but if you’ve never been, then you really should, it appears that some of you have indeed taken the advice as the numbers were up, and early figures suggest 25,000 attendance over the entire weekend which is incredible. And it was awesome to see more families and kids, in particular on Sunday.

For those gagging for the hard figures then here are the exact totals for attendance hot off the presses from the organizers.
Attendance figures of 25149 (86% up)
• Unique attendees of 12636 (41% up)
(Each attendee counts as a unique but if they come for more than one day they count as 2 or 3 attendances.)
The breakdown by day was as follows:
Friday 6922
Saturday 10504
Sunday 7723

Asked about what he felt about the attendance Tony said

“When you consider that in the first event 10 years back we had just 800 folk, the growth has been extraordinary. In the Hobby Games Industry UKGE is the largest event in the UK, 2nd in Europe and battling for 3rd or 4th place worldwide. We have truly arrived in the Big League of Hobby Games Conventions. This year some of the biggest companies told us we were firmly established as a must-attend convention.”

So my EXPO started particularly well as I was selected to have a piece in the 2016 Programme, which is all very humbling, specifically if you think about some of the utter gibberish that we turn out in any given month. However it happened and in the 10th anniversary no less, if you didn’t make it to the show then here is the article as produced.

Expo Guide 1 EXPO guide 2

If you’re a Patreon of the show, then I’ll be putting up the unEXPO edited version there so you can compare what they deemed too rowdy to print.

THURSDAY

IMG_1569 “We” that being me and my malcontent editor, camera operator and wobbly tripod facilitator Chris from the UK Gaming Media Network arrived on Thursday. It’s handy to get a look in on what’s occurring before the show starts, and usually many designers, and industry types can be encountered during this brief moment of tranquillity before the event. So while Chris busied himself with actually working and setting up equipment, I went next door to annoy the esteemed Mr. Tony Boydell who himself was hurriedly attempting to set up his stand, when it was clear that telling me to piss off! Wasn’t working he offered a freshly minted copy of Guilds of London that he summarily launched across the hall, and I scurried after it tongue lolling from my mouth like a dull-witted Labrador chasing a bus.

IMG_1565

Coffee is our friend.

IMG_1567

After recovering the box from a labourer’s buttcrack

In a rare moment of actually working I very nearly caused an international incident when on one of our many equipment gathering trips between the Hall and the Hilton I spied Eric Lang looking somewhat befuddled by his epic journey to arrive at the EXPO via Disneyland a Clown Car and numerous transport strikes. I greeted him with my customary booming “Hellooo” and the poor designer looking like a Panda in headlights nearly stumbled into the nearby duck pond, we moved quickly on.

I had the advantage of early access to the show as Playmore Games those lovely Finnish chaps that we met last year with their crazy preproduction copy of Race to the North Pole complete with spinny thing had kindly offered us a sizeable chunk of their stand for conducting interviews. Now the enormity of this may be lost on some of you, but usually, we’re allocated a small table beside the toilets, this year we had a stand and table, a three camera set up, we looked like a professional operation. Even the esteemed Mr. Tom Vasel passed by at one point and complimented us on the set up so yes we’re Dice Tower approved.

I crossed paths with Shut Up & Sit Down crew and in one of many awkward moments I shouted ” Hello SUSD people” we all nearly stopped and then quickly walked away faintly embarrassed. Obviously, unaware they were in the presence of a gaming media god they thought better than to stop, or possibly they feared for their safety.

The rest of the evening passed in a flurry of alcohol and the chance to catch up with my extended gamer family that I only see once a year, it may have involved too much alcohol as I really can’t recall what the hell else happened that night.

FRIDAY

Friday usually the quieter day of the three proved full on, we had the press event to attend that morning and promptly missed its commencement as we were arguing over a pack of free biscuits Chris had acquired from his Hotel room. We strode purposefully into the event replete with a beard now festooned with cookie crumbs hoping our determined gait would disguise our ineptitude, we could tell by the faintly disappointed look in the Fantasy Flight Rep’s eye that we’d failed. River Horse was there with the buzz gathering Labyrinth based on the 80’s Henson classic, the miniatures are fabulous although I was distracted during the pitch as it was being conducted by man dressed as the Goblin King replete with something resembling a small sausage dog straining against his tights. Chris spotting my wide-eyed fixation quickly moved me on before I made a bigger embarrassment of myself or started pointing.

NetworksFurther standouts include Gil Hova and his hugely popular and brilliant looking The Networks hot from its Kickstarter success. The game of running your own TV station from its decidedly awful Public Access roots to the heights of HBO like multinational conglomeration… is that a word?

networks1

This is Graham’s Moo TV he was very proud of this.

Steam Works boxSteam Works by Alex Churchill a steampunk worker placement where you assemble the action spaces by cobbling together intricate doodads and whatchamacallits.

Steam Works TilesPioneers Program generalSomething that looked fantastic was The Pioneers Program from GCT Studios. A post-apocalypse set settlement building card game, what really drew me to it was the incredible art by Mihajlo Dimitrievski who you may know from his amazing work on Villages of Valeria and Explorers of the North Sea, its one I’ll be watching out for when it hits Kickstarter Later in the year.

Pioneers Program cards

Lantern coverLight or lack off was a thing that a few designs had embraced one was
Lantern Lost in the Dark a cooperative Lovecraftian horror adventure game. Players explore a decrypted mansion looking for relics to perform a ritual to “Dispel the Darkness” i.e. find the light switch. It had some fascinating mechanics, and the idea of sharing one lantern amongst the group to be able to complete tasks is cool, and players lost to the dark return to mess with the others adding an interesting traitory mechanic. The only issue I had from what I saw was the Art & Design consisted of primarily black cards, which was a bit underwhelming.

Lantern lost in the darkEverdarkThe other dark/light game was Everdark from The Walrus Games, and they attracted a huge amount of interest throughout the show not least because of their attention grabbing rotating multi-tiered game board. It certainly looked cool, and I felt a definite twinge in the games presence we grabbed them for an interview, so look for that soon.

Edarkice coolAnother game that was quite the attention grabber was Ice Cool from Brain Games, these guys were everywhere. It’s a very light dexterity game of flicking Penguins around a 3d board, the cool thing is the Penguins function like Weebles and combined with my inability to perform any physical act without injuring myself or bystanders it was quickly surmised by Chris that maybe I leave it alone. We will be equipping ourselves with sufficient safety gear with which to carry out the full review soon.

We popped our head in on C.G.E. and took a look at Adrenaline that has been given quite a few thumbs up, yet I regrettably failed to play, exchanged looks of longing with Tinkerbot and the beautiful looking Ghostel now with almost completed artwork. And popped by Bez resplendent in extravagant matching bright red ensemble with the hugely fun and infectious inAbind, which is in the running for my EXPO 2016 not so hidden gem.

stuff by BezBesides a couple of hopelessly confused new designers brandishing some well-intentioned but utterly bemusing Monopoly clones we were done and decided at this juncture the professional and sensible thing was to go and get Beer and greasy food… so we did.

Now sated we conducted the first of our raft of table interviews scheduled for the day with Playmore and Race to the North Pole and Dized their rulebook retiring app.

Dashing off we had a chat with the soon to anointed knight of the gaming realm Mr. Richard Denning for a quick catch up on the EXPO and his new design Nine Worlds, which you can have a look at below.

Then it was back to the stand and chat with Osprey Games about their splendid new edition of “Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space”, “Frostgrave” and a tease for the forthcoming “Escape from Colditz.” slather.

We were then joined by the lovely Emma from Thames & Kosmos with the Spiel Des Jahres nominated Imhotep from Phil Walker-Harding for me to have a bit of an excited dribble about. This has grown on me since and I regret not picking it up at the show.

Then I was whisked off into the “Is There Anything New Under The Sun” seminar conducted by Lewis Pulsipher, Eric Lang and Christian Petersen by the Playmore boys. Mr. Petersen looked terribly serious, and I behaved myself as he gave me a look like the wife does when I’ve been acting up.

The esteemed Mr. Lang came over to the booth to take a look at the Dized app, and I plied him with Finnish chocolates, now fully recovered from our near catastrophic duck pond meeting everything was going well until he noticed the name of the brand.

pandamaitosuklaa1In his traumatized state now really didn’t seem the time to ask him for that interview, and he quickly made his excuses but not before stuffing his pockets with the offending confectionery. Soon Lang soon, you may run, but I intended to nab him like a particularly cheeky be-fuzzed Pokemon.

With the show drawing to a close it seemed perfectly sensible to head to the bar, so we did. Chris had to go and perform a footage dump which he loudly proclaimed in the bar area clearing several tables and so I found myself in the company of Tony (local game buddy) and the decidedly excited Andy Hopwood. After several games of some of Andy’s work in progress designs and the flow of alcohol, it was time to break out Ice Cool.

Myself, Chris now having dealt with his sanitary problems and Tony commenced a drunkenly incompetent game of the wobbly penguin flicker in a room full of proper gamers and became embarrassingly uproarious. Chris was incapable of managing to get his Penguin out of a single room mine ended up in someone’s pint and Tony soundly thrashed us. Our work here now done we staggered off our separate ways for a fitful few hours sleep before the main event.

Saturday at the UK Games EXPO.

To be continued…

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