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UK Games Expo 2024 – Con Diary Part One

by on June 7, 2024
 

The 2024 UK Games Expo has come and gone. It’s the first one in a few years that I’ve attended and I’ve been a lot less active at games journalism than in previous years. Once Mike placed the press pass into my hand, the energy came back.

Thursday

The Expo doesn’t begin on the Thursday, but it’s a good day to get all the travel over with, to get show tickets, RPG tickets and check in at the hotel. Or in our case the Tamworth M42 Travelodge.

The look of a man not entirely sure where he is or what’s going on

I arrived at three, made my way past a flood of posters for a man with a mobile home podcast and waitted outside the NEC’s main halls at the Starbucks. I’d hovered around the smoker’s side previously but the tables rarely seem to get used and provided some much-needed shade. I met up with my old GM, Graham, who would be my wheelman and token extrovert for the show. We checked in and played some DroPolter in a booth at the service station which would be the perfect set for a horror movie.

The spooky abandoned halls of the Tamworth M42 services.

The Travelodge was pretty much what you’d expect from any similar location. We played Arkham Horror; specifically the Murder at the Exelsior, where our investigators were trying to solve a murder they were accused of in a hotel. “Do you think it’s weird playing this in a Travelodge?” Graham asked. I thought back to the dark hallway we walked through and the light which through a glass door looked strangely ethereal. It was probably fine.

Friday

We survived the night in the Travelodge, even though our Investigators failed to solve the murder in Arkham Horror.

I woke early, had a shower, although the body wash dispenser was out, so I used the soap from the bathroom sink. I requested a refill and then waited outside for Graham, bopping along to Amyl and the Sniffers while I took photos of the glorious desolation.

 

Graham was my first proper GM and one of my oldest friends. We keep touch at conventions and through near-weekly calls. While I’m fairly introspective and anxious with a low social bandwidth, Graham is a whirlwind of enthusiasm, able to befriend people at a moment’s notice. Including a dog we saw on the way from the service station Greggs to the car.

This is the way.

There’s something fun about the exodus from the car parks to the convention, the enthusiasm from folks as they prepare to play games, browse the trade hall. I had to pick up my press pass from Mike, so I split off from Graham as soon as we arrived.

Rather than deal with the initial scrum, Graham and I played Vaesen, a game of folkloric horror investigations. The 9am RPG slot on the first day was a good shout for avoiding the chaos, although we were so early they’d not put up laminates to show the room names.

Some of the handouts from Vaesen

I’m going to write separately about the actual RPG experiences rather than do that here. What I will say is that it was surprisingly Sapphire & Steel-like. We were in a room which felt like it was mostly Free League games, with a player at another table starting to cough, getting louder and worse, then thrashing and choking on his chair, going red in the face before miming a chestburster ripping its way out of his body. The players at the Alien RPG table applauded.

On our way to the trade hall, Graham made friends with a very young bomb dog who was being trained and whose owner figured socialising the dog would help him get used to people.

Local token makers, Buy the Same Token, had made it up to the show. Their tokens are great for blinging out games, something I’ve done with Arkham Horror. In the show they were debuting an Earthborne Rangers player board and effort tokens all made out of wood.

Chaosium had a debut at their stall with some early copies of the Pendragon RPG. Unfortunately it had sold out by midday on Friday, before I was able to get there. They found another supply on Saturday, once again while I was elsewhere in an RPG.

A preview copy of Horror on the Orient Express

Aconyte Books were showing off their line of game-related books which has expanded over time to include puzzle books based on licences like Pandemic and Ticket to Ride. They had copies of The Darkness Over Arkham, an “Arkham Horror Investigator Gamebook” by Arkham prose regular, Jonathan Green.

Aconyte’s stand

The Darkness Over Arkham is a Fighting Fantasy style adventure book with modified Arkham Horror mechanics and several investigators to play from, both in the book and on their website. I enquired about whether this was part of a planned series or just an experiment, and if so, had it worked. The person at the booth wasn’t sure what I’d meant and said it wasn’t an experiment as it was a book they’d already published. A colleague of his called out that yes, the experiment was working. They had no specific plans to share, but it looks fun and I’m pleased it’s being supported. I also saw the cover for a Dark Horse Arkham Horror comic, which I forgot was coming out, but I’m stoked for.

I had a break outside the Starbucks to get some air before heading into the trade halls. While talking to my partner on the phone I was idly skimming a programme and saw the seminars. There was a Sustainability in Board Games Panel which was about to start.

The folks from the panel.

People from the Green Games Guide hosted the event, with fruit for people to take and a discussion of who they were, the practices they’re doing and hoping to do. There were some interesting questions and again, I’ll be covering this in its own article.

From there, I hit the trade hall.

Waterstones had a large stall, which I guess should be expected as they were an associate sponsor of the show. They had distinctive shelves of games, folks to show off games and a 20% discount for the first purchase each person made.

Waterstones brought some of their shelves

Van Ryder Games are masters of the solo board game, especially Final Girl. There were large stacks of the first two seasons of Final Girl and a lot of stock to sell.

I had to stop by Wayland Games who were having a pretty busy time. A friend gave me a message to pass on to someone called Dave. I had no idea who it was, so I decided to pick someone at random and say, “I have an ominous message for Dave from someone else, also called Dave.” I hope the message was passed on.

A quick plug for Molotov College by W.H. Arthur, which I wrote a playbook for

Compose Dream Games were a collective of indie RPG creators, one of many such groups who were at the show. They had a number of interesting different games to show off and were good at pitching them.

Finally, I went to the UK Indie League, another RPG collective who were down in Hall One with standees showing Cadfael and Sean Connery from The Name of the Rose, advertising an investigative monk game, Rosewood Abbey. The people at the stall weren’t the designers, but were fantastic at selling the game. It’s Carved from Brindlewood and involves mundane mysteries, as well as the fun contrast of incredibly pious people being a bit gossipy. It’s one of the only purchases I also read while at the show.

Who wouldn’t want a game based on Cadfael?

Recovering outside Starbucks again and catching up with Graham, we bumped into some people who weren’t exhibiting their game, but had a prototype to show off. Again, this will be covered in another report.

Sweet Jesus the queues…

I needed food before it was time for an RPG and had made no plans, so I ran out to the food vans. For people inexperienced at UK Games Expo, there are generally several good but overpriced food vans who lurk outside the Hilton, luring hungry nerds to them. I found an ‘Indian Style’ food van which had some halloumi and masala chips.

The evening game was Candela Obscura, run by a GM with some nice homemade cards and observed for a bit by someone who might have been a Critical Role person.

My Candela Obscura character with some character cards.

That’s it for the first day of the con, I hope you’re all stoked for the big two days of UK Games Expo.

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