THE COMPLETE SAGA OF
OH MY DIES!
An affectionate look at UKGE 2017 and boardgames in general
The UKGE at Birmingham’s NEC is without doubt the UK’s premier Board and Tabletop gaming convention. In actual fact it is one of the top 3 in the world following this years attendances that came to in excess of 30,000 over the three days. It was also the largest UK Expo yet with 1 hall entirely for tournament play, various rooms for press and events like there wytherns lair (think dragons den for boardgames), Viking encampment outside the NEC, A food street, catering outside the Hilton hotel, Open gaming areas with space for in the region of 1000 people, 7-8 rooms for RPG play, A Starship Bridge simulator and all of this before you even get into the main trade hall (Hall 1) with its event stage, Cosplay area, Bring and buy, Family gaming, Prototype play section, Board games Library, Coffee stops and literally hundreds of retailers, designers, developers, publishers and manufacturers. If it is boardgames related the chances are you will find it there.
To give you a sense of scale for the main hall. Virtually in the centre was the Wotan Games’ Double Decker Bus (yes really a full sized double decker). What makes that so special I hear you ask? Well from entering the hall until you are about 20meters away, you cannot actually see it is there. Of the 30,000+ that attended the 3 days 16,000 were unique individuals indicating that a lot of people returned over 2 or 3 days. There is so much to see and do that in 1 day you would not even get to properly see 50% of the main hall.
Overall attendance was up by 44% on 2016 which gives you some idea of the rate of growth of not only the EXPO but the boardgames market as a whole. Long gone are the days when boardgames were the domain of spotty, sweaty, unwashed oddballs (some still exist). Or a game of scrabble, cluedo or monopoly with aunty Mabel at Christmas. Nowadays Boardgames are enjoyed by young and old, male and female, high-flying business executives, Celebrities or just your average Chris or Christine from next door.
All come together to enjoy and discover the wondrous array of delights that are appearing in this golden resurgence of boardgames. Even some of the “newer” games (I use this loosely as some are over 20 years old already) like Catan and Carcassonne are considered “old men” of gaming so fast is the pace of innovation. With some people having game collections in excess of 1000 games. But realistically the average size seem to be between 50-100. It has to be said that one of the biggest reasons for this is accessibility. With the rise of crowd funding sites like Kickstarter allowing the small indie game designer the opportunity to create games that the big publishers of the older style game would not risk funding. This is not because they are not good games, in fact some are absolutely outstanding. Add to all of this word of mouth via the rise in social media like Facebook and this once very niche hobby is growing exponentially with these “new style” games appearing more often in mainstream retail outlets.
Last year (2016), I attended my first ever EXPO along with my son (7) We went for the 3 days but were only staying for ½ day on Sunday. We spent far too much money on games, bought loads of geeky fun gear including an exact replica of the 12th Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver courtesy of It’s an ASHTON. We played demos of lots of different games at the same time meeting some of the designers and developers of those games, They were universally friendly and totally enthusiastic about not only their own games but the hobby as a whole. Every single person we met was friendly polite and willing to offer advice, join us for a game or just chat about the hobby in general. We had such a good time that when we had to leave on the Sunday lunchtime, my son did not want to go. The reason we had to go? was to take him to his own birthday party!
Fast forward 12 months to 2017. I was determined to experience even more of the EXPO phenomenon now that I was starting to review and play-test boardgames as well as offer advice on ways in which to improve Kickstarter page layouts. I then volunteered to assist ITB (Inside the Box) games, Creators of the successful award winning games Statecraft and Sub Terra, On both the Thursday build day and the Friday to demo Statecraft. This allowed me to experience the behind the scenes build up and the fun of the EXPO from both sides. Cue Thursday lunchtime and about 15 of us descended onto the bare framed stand and floor space, where we began laying carpet, putting up posters, setting up tables, creating two special “experience“areas and set up of the sales area. After 5½ hours of us behaving like a swarm of locusts in reverse,. We were ready! Well as ready as we could be. So began the final cribbing of the amended rule sets and demo play techniques. This was to allow the members of the public to enjoy the game and their time playing it as much as possible. There is a surprising amount of skill involved in playing a game well enough to not win but still only lose by 1 or 2 points!
Friday morning dawned. Walking into the main trade hall before the general public was a little like walking into wonderland before Alice arrived. It was abundantly clear that every single one of the hundreds of other stands had done exactly the same process as we had. There was a gentle buzz of anticipation and a tangible almost electric feeling similar to that one you get just before a large thunderstorm breaks overhead. We final pep talked, checked play table set-ups and straightened out branded T-Shirts. Every other stall was going through exactly the same ritual of primping and preening getting them selves readier than they were already. Suddenly the buzz of excitement seemed to lift up a couple of notches and the tannoy exploded into life “5…4…3…2…1. Welcome to UK Games Expo 2017” a cheer rose up from outside the hall as the crowds surged forward. My mouth was suddenly dry, too late to back out now! Volume steadily rising. For a moment you can’t even remember the name of the game in front of you let alone how to play it. Then, a chair scrapes, your smile appears “Hello!” and so it begins…..
3 Hours later you realise your smile is probably now a permanent muscle spasm, Your voice sounds like used up sandpaper. A quick drink and a bite to eat, you cannot wait to dive back in. The next time reality returns is when the tannoy announces 10 mins to closing, Your feet and legs ache, You can hardly talk, you are completely exhausted but you have had so much fun. This is where your expo begins. You go back to the hotel have a quick shower, throw on some clean clothes, grab a bite to eat from one of the food stalls outside the hotel (I recommend the beef burritos they are something else) and head into the Hilton to try and find a game to play. You see someone you recognise from earlier in the day. Thankfully they have a spare seat in the already crowded gaming halls. You sit down and start to play. This is for me one of the highlights of the EXPO. Hundreds upon hundreds of people enjoying a mutual love of board-gaming. Where every person regardless of age, race, creed, nationality or ability is welcomed with open arms and treated as an absolute equal and friend. You love games, they love games that is all that matters. It is like an immense family gathering without all the bickering. Next thing your aware of is it is well past midnight and you can hardly keep your eyes open. You return to your room, lie down on your bed.
Morning happens suddenly and without warning. After a relaxing start you grab a hearty breakfast. With so much to see and do you do not want to go hungry. Head over to the NEC and join the hundreds of people waiting patiently to enter the halls when it opens. Mentally you have a list of games you are looking to buy and a steely determination to not go “critical” like last year buying everything you could. Finally the doors open, the crowd now numbering in the thousand instead of hundreds surge forward. You pass security and “OOH Shiny” your list is gone, your carefully crafted route forgotten. Around mid afternoon you realise your starting to feel hungry. So you sit down to eat and survey your joyous acquisitions. You very quickly realise your purchases only contain 1 or 2 games from your mental list and your budget is long since destroyed. You spend the remainder of the day playing demos. Determined to stay strong and not buy any more games. Heroically you manage until the 10 minutes to closing announcement and it happens. There on a shelf you spot a game all on its own. It looks lonely lost and forlorn. You have never heard of it and the internet is not brilliant. It could be complete rubbish…. But it is only £10. At that price how bad could it be. So with one final box tucked safely under your arm you return to the hotel. Your feet and legs have that familiar ache from yesterday. You carefully stack all the games onto the bed and take a picture of your “haul” posting it to Facebook (yes that is a thing).
Tomorrow will be different you swear to yourself. You pull a sheet of hotel paper towards you and carefully list out those “must have” games. Using the internet you check out the best prices online, working out your maximum spend. Ooh it is 7:30pm already. Do you go to the restaurant? No the street stalls were good value for money. You might even play a game or two. But you will not stay as late tonight. 1am your head hits the pillow what a great day you have had.
Sunday dawns. This is your chance the hall opens ½hour before trading begins. Plenty enough time to find what you want from your list making sure it is the best price possible. Get in-BUY-Get out! With a spring in your step you set off. This is where you discover, Every single person attending has had exactly the same thought as you….
Fast forward….”The UK Games Expo 2017, is now closed, Thank you for coming” blares the tannoy. A huge cheer goes up from exhibitors and attendees alike. Another great weekend draws to a close…..Well except for one little thing. Your list. You sit down outside the hall, pull out your phone, go to that certain website and click on BUY. They will arrive tomorrow.
Next year will be different you promise yourself as you load up the car and head home for some sleep
SEE YOU JUNE 2018