From 2nd – 4th June 2017, the biggest event in the UK gaming calendar takes place at the NEC in Birmingham at the UK Games Expo. I went for the first time last year and was astonished at just how big it was, and 2017 promises to be even bigger still as the expo spills over into two halls for the first time. Here are my top ten highlights that I’m looking forward to this year:
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Statecraft is making an appearance at the UK Games Expo courtesy of ITB Games, who apparently have a “huge stall” with “lots of offers” at this year’s event. I love political simulation games (a somewhat neglected genre over the years – Civilization was the closest I ever really came to it) and this is something I’ve been really looking forward to. Currently carrying a 7.9 average score on Boardgamegeek, Statecraft is gathering favourable reviews online and the first copies are almost ready for the shelves. It’s a “must buy” for me, but the price means I’d like to playtest it first.
I’ve always enjoyed games involving theme parks (think of the classic “Theme Park” from Bullfrog or the Rollercoaster Tycoon series), but this is the first time I’ve ever seen that adapted to a board game. Unfair sees players build up their own theme parks while trying to ruin those of their opponents. Sadly I missed the Kickstarter for this one and officially I wasn’t expecting it to hit the shelves until this autumn, but Games Lore now have it “in stock” according to their website in this week’s releases. Last year, Games Lore had an enormous stand just inside the entrance to the UKGE and were taking money hand-over-fist having brought their internet prices with them. If they really have got this in stock I will be throwing piles of £10 notes at them to get a copy, even if it has had mixed reviews so far from the gaming community.
I first learned about this in last month’s Tabletop Gaming magazine. While gladiator games are nothing new, Gladiatores looks to be an interesting card-based game in which players take the role of a Lanista – a gladiator school owner – fighting for prestige and the honour of competing in Rome. My inner Prospero is keen to give it a try.
4. Star Wars: Rebellion – Rise of the Empire
Since my girlfriend bought this for me for my birthday last month, Star Wars: Rebellion has become my favourite boardgame of all time. A bold claim, for sure, and that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for all occasions, but it is my clear no.1 – at least for the moment. Last year, Fantasy Flight Games had a huge stand demonstrating seemingly all of their products. Even if it’s not yet in print, I’m hoping that there may be some examples of this recently-announced expansion for Rebellion to test, or at least some more information about it. This is one expansion I really can’t wait for.
5. Gloom of Kilforth
Billed as a fantasy adventure in a box, Gloom of Kilforth had a successful Kickstarter campaign last year which happened before I started getting back into boardgaming. Had I known about it, it’s certainly one I would have taken a look at. I’ve always loved fantasy adventures, but I don’t have as much time as I’d like for RPGs these days. Gloom of Kilforth promises to fix that with an interesting quest system, stunning artwork and (in the designer’s words) a “full RPG experience” that can be played through in about an hour. Tristan Hall is going to be at the UKGE according to Tabletop Gaming magazine, so I’m interested to see this in action.
6. Thirsty Meeples
Last year Thirsty Meeples had the largest stand at the UKGE, with a huge gaming arena and their massive library on hand for a £10 fee. Much as I love my local Loading bar and its library of around 200 games, they cannot compete with Thirsty Meeples’ several thousand games. I don’t live anywhere near Oxford so cannot get to the real Thirsty Meeples itself; visiting them at the UKGE is the next best thing. Their gaming area is probably the most comfortable place to play games over the weekend.
Yes, yes, I know that Games Lore are a shop and I can buy stuff from them online whenever I like. Last year, though, they brought their stock to the UKGE and were the first stall that most people came across as they entered the NEC. Bringing both an enormous catalogue of games with them, as well as internet prices, the team at Games Lore were taking money every time I passed them last year and I have no doubt it’ll be the same again. If I’m in a buying mood, it’ll probably be here that I go first.
8. The awesome seminars
This year there are some fantastic seminars for budding designers, with the UKGE heavily promoting UK-based development opportunities. As well as the return of the playtesting areas, there is a full programme of seminars where designers can meet manufacturers, publishers and other leading industry figures to discuss every aspect of game development, from concept through to launch and distribution. Although I don’t consider myself a game designer, I’m interested to see if I’ve got what it takes and will be at several of these events on Saturday evening, including how to make, market and sell boardgames.
9. Bring and Buy
While not necessarily the best value to be found in the second-hand market, last year’s bring and buy sale was the largest collection of second-hand boardgames I’d seen anywhere. It’s definitely fun for a rummage and 10% of the sales are donated to charity. It wasn’t all full of junk last year either – there are plenty of good games being cleared out to make shelf space for others!
10. Playing games into the small hours
After the UKGE shuts its doors at around 5.30pm, gaming moves over to the other side of the NEC to the Hilton hotel where several rooms are taken up with free-for-all tables just for gamers. Most people were playing things they’d just bought at the Expo and it was a great chance to make new friends over a drink and boardgame. Last year I had to leave at around 9pm in order to get back home in time on the train. This year I have no such constraints courtesy of a Travelodge room down the road and an Uber account, and I’m looking forward to being among the last to leave in the early hours. Many people from my usual crowd at Loading and Tabletop Tuesdays will be there, so it’ll be a great chance to catch up with them and find out how their convention went.
The UK Games Expo runs from 2nd – 4th June 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham, England. I look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible!