Sunday, 26 May 2013

Review - UK Games Expo 2013

The car park was labelled 'Middle-Earth'!
UK GAMES EXPO 2013

I almost never made it to this year’s UK Games Expo, and that would have been somewhat upsetting. As a huge gamer, especially as far as tabletop roleplaying games are concerned, it would have been remiss of me to have not attended probably the biggest games exhibition in the country. With some very last minute wrangling I managed to get both the time and tickets, and with Jedi News t-shirt washed and ironed me and my wife Lisa, who was there representing her website The Mind Palace, set out on the long(ish) journey to the Hilton Birmingham Metropole hotel near the National Exhibition Centre.

One minute in and already in trouble!
First off, the venue was incredibly simple to get to, literally five minutes off the motorway. Get off the motorway, turn left, turn left again, bingo. The location of the new venue for the expo is so much easier to get to than the original location, and so
much larger. While the original venue was quite good it was in a bit of an awkward location to reach, especially by public transport, so this place was automatically full of win. Ten or twenty minutes from railway stations and Birmingham airport, as well, so even if I didn’t drive it still would have been easy to get to. And the best bit? Free parking in a car park only five minute’s walk from the hotel. Yes, please.

Heroic dudes from
Titan Games, Lichfield
When we arrived it was already heaving with gamers. The Hilton was big – really big. There was a huge trader’s hall, which was packed to the brim with stores and publishers all pushing their wares and titles. There was a great selection of games and the hall was constantly rammed. The great thing about the size of the rooms at the Hilton is that I never felt crushed or penned in, and there wasn’t many bottlenecks of bodies all crowding around a single stall. By the time we ran into our friends from Titan Games in Lichfield we’d
pretty much seen every game in existence, and Titan had even more stuff for us to get all googly-eyed over.

Gunnar Roxen (left)
In this hall we met Gunnar Roxen, the author of ‘The Wyld Hunt’ (amongst other titles) a cyberpunk/noir/fantasy novel set in a future London. He was a thoroughly nice bloke, very eager and passionate about his work and we got free badges! Hooray! He was on the Chronicle City stand with others – I very brie
fly met owner Angus Abranson but, as it is with popular and busy publishers of his calibre at a convention, he only had time to shake hands, give me a brief hello and wish me the best, and then take off at lightspeed to his next meeting. I’ll be setting up interviews with both these dudes in the near future.

My favourite
It wasn’t long until I found the source of the crazy costumed people wandering around the venue. Galactic Knights are ‘a Star Wars and Sci-Fi costuming group that brings together enthusiasts from all over the world who enjoy celebrating the stars and characters of movies, TV, comics and video g ames.’ The costumes on show were fantastic and full marks to this team for getting the details so spot on. Alongside the Star Wars suits there were, amongst others, some great Doctor Who characters and a 2000AD street Judge, but my favourite was definitely the Sith warrior.
Me being done in by a Judge
and a lightsabre - no fair!

Not only did I meet the great people behind this costume group but I got to have a blast on a range with a pistol, the only requirement being that I wear a clone trooper helmet. After the obligatory ‘I can’t see a thing in this helmet!’ quote, I had four shots at small stand-up cutouts of various Star Wars characters. After a somewhat lacklustre attempt – mainly because I couldn’t see a thing in that helmet, of course – I was presented with a certificate signed by Darth Vader welcoming me to the Galactic Knights. It was great fun, and thank you to the team. They were very welcoming, friendly and gracious to a bumbling guy in a helmet who couldn’t shoot straight.

No, honestly - I couldn't see a thing in that helmet...
... but it was worth the embarrassment!

My wife Lisa (r) arrives in the TARDIS with Rose and River...

... meets The Doctor...

... and then leaves again.
I found the Arion Games table and met Graham Bottley, the man who bought the Advanced Fighting Fantasy roleplaying game back onto the gaming table. I’m currently writing the science fiction version of AFF for Arion Games so, after the internet communication we had prior to this, it was nice to finally meet the man and shake his hand. He had a lot on his table, all the current AFF books and the new Port Blacksand book, as well as other material for other games such as Alexander Scott’s Maelstrom. It was a nice stand and the maps of Port Blacksand he had on offer, large affairs inside their own tubes, were really good and great not only for the AFF game but for any game system, or world, in general. The same could be said for the Port Blacksand sourcebook. We talked about the science fiction AFF project… but I won’t go into any details here!

After lunch we moved on to the Fantasy Flight Games demonstration stand where they had a few games being shown off. Of course, my interest was in the Star Wars games they had on offer, all of which I have already played and reviewed, but I wanted to get a feel of what the people taking part thought of the products.

Edge of the Empire in full swing
First of all there was the Edge of the Empire Introductory game. It was great to see a mix of ages at this gaming table; the first group I saw were children, no older than eleven or twelve years old, and they were having a great time. The game was in full swing by the time I got there and they seemed to be eager and excited, with lots of questions and energy. I spoke with a couple of people after the demo and the feedback was good – the younger players new to the game were very positive about the game, and the older players were suitably impressed. It seems that the new Star Wars RPG has gone down quite well, and one or two gamers were please to hear that the full rulebook was due out very soon.

Star Wars: The Card Game
Next, I moved on to Star Wars: The Card Game. I came into this towards the end of the game so I missed the actual gameplay, but I do know that the guy I saw playing the game seemed quite impressed, and when we were leaving the venue I saw him with a copy of the game in his bag. Obviously, the game he had played had impressed him enough for him to head back to the trader’s hall and purchase a copy.

The Star Wars Miniatures Game
on the amazing Death Star board

Finally, I moved on to the Star Wars Miniatures Game. Wow. The Death Star gameboard complete with turbolaser towers was really impressive (sadly, my amateur photography does it no justice) and the whole set of available fighters and starships were arrayed across the table. This attracted a lot of attention not just for the gameplay - which was both funny and exciting as there were a lot of ships on the board with multiple players trying not to fly into each other - but also for the miniatures themselves. The Millennium Falcon model was photographed a few times, I can tell you. The game was quick and fluid and everyone was having a great time, and upon speaking to a couple of guys after the battle was over, one was all for buying it and the other was incredibly impressed by the models. Out of the three games I think the Star Wars Miniatures game was definitely the winner.

Impressive... most impressive...

There were a few other stands I attended, too:

DICE!!!!!
Coiledspring Games were a nice bunch of people, very approachable and friendly. These guys are responsible for the game Rory’s Story Cubes, where you roll several six-sided dice with symbols on them and create a story from the results. Right now it’s my son Bruce’s favourite tabletop game so it was great to meet the people that have given him so much fun.


The blokes at the Yog-Sothoth table were great guys, and we got a great hardback book ‘The Express Diaries’ by the very charming NickMarsh, who was not only at the table but he signed the book for Lisa, too! The gorgeous book is on the review list so look out for that in the future – I’m also hoping to arrange an interview.

James Edward Raggi IV was a thoroughly nice chap and I honestly wish I had found his table offering ‘Lamentations of the FlamePrincess’ earlier. I had run out of spending cash by then and he had the boxset of what appears to be a wonderful game – of which I’ve heard a lot of good things about – on show, as well as some supplements and adventures for the game and some great-looking OSRIC modules. These are things I will most definitely be checking out in the near future.

I attended other tables, looked at products, heard about some great things and learned of upcoming projects, and finally it was time to leave. My feet ached, I was almost hoarse from the all the talking and I need some air. On the short walk back to the car my wife and I mulled over our impressions of the UK Games Expo 2013.

Attendance was amazing
First and foremost, the venue was a massive improvement on the previous location. The Hilton was a great place, easy to find and huge, really huge. The attendance was amazing, so good that by the time we got there, just shy of 12 o’clock, they had already run out of programmes and the ones they had left they were having to keep back for the Sunday show. An hour later I heard that they had run out of printed Saturday attendance tickets – that’s just great to hear. It’s fantastic that the turnout was so amazing, and coming back to the size of the venue it’s worth noting that even though they appear to have exceeded expectations in numbers the venue never felt packed and crammed. I remember feelings of claustrophobia at the old venue so the high ceilings, bright lights and open spaces of the Hilton were a welcome relief.

There were plenty of games going on in multiple rooms
Everything was organised really well. The expo was clearly signposted, easy to get into and everything inside was clearly marked and labelled so you knew where you going and what was in each room. Because I couldn’t get hold of a programme (and if anyone reading this wants to part with theirs then please let me know!) I didn’t have a map of the venue, but not only was it easy to navigate without one there were volunteers on hand with copies to point you in the right direction. They needed to do this as the attendance was fantastic and no doubt there may have been some confusion, but it was all very well handled. It was also great to hear so many different international accents.

I don't remember seeing any empty tables in any of the halls
This year’s UK Games Expo was a resounding success. We had a great day out, met some wonderful people and saw some amazing things. If you decided not to attend because of the venue change then you’ve done yourself a disservice, and I should know – I was one of those people wondering at the wisdom of changing the venue. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I’m more than happy to say that as the location, attendance, exhibitors, games and traders were all top quality.

Very well done, UK Games Expo 2013. I’m posting you a gold star.

Make sure you attend next year!