The UK Games Expo is the largest hobby games convention in the United Kingdom. It covers all types of hobby games, including board games, card games, RPGs, war games and many, many more. After a break of a couple of years, I was finally ready to make my way up to the NEC, Birmingham again in 2022. However, this time, a friend from my games group joined me. I was really looking forward to finally meeting many of the people I only knew via social media. I also wanted to introduce myself to some of the publishers exhibiting there. My schedule was really full. It was going to be exhausting, but also a huge amount of fun.
Let's get some of the stats out of the way first. UK Games Expo is now in its 16th year. We're still waiting to hear the latest figures, but in 2019, the event welcomed over 45,000 visitors over three days and there were more than 425 exhibitors, 121 of whom were not from the UK. It was then, and probably still is now, not only the biggest tabletop game exhibition in the UK, but also the 3rd largest in the world.
Despite its size, UK Games Expo is actually relatively compact. I previously attended the event in a single day and as a visitor that is often enough. However, this year I knew I wanted to speak to a lot of people. Not only did I want to go to the Show Preview event on Thursday night, before the show opened on Friday, but also take part in some of the social activities in the evenings. So I decided to go up on Thursday, stay two nights and then go back home Saturday afternoon or evening.
I didn't quite know what to expect from the Show Preview evening, other than that it was going to be a few rows of tables with some of the exhibitors there, vying for the attention of press, publishers and similar. It was sort of a mix of quick pitches to potential publishers as well as the board game press.
It allowed me to have a couple of quick conversations and see if there were any gems that I might have missed in my planning prior to the show. I was also able to have a quick catch-up with the exhibitors I did intend to see during the show itself.
James Naylor of Naylor Games was there and I had a quick chat with him, as well as Jaya Baldwin. They were showing off Magnate of course, but also the next game from this super successful publisher called Boardgames: The Boardgame (The Card Game) which seemed to have been renamed Pitch at some point during the exhibition. I was lucky enough to see an early prototype of this game and I can only recommend you take a look yourself.
I also had a quick chat with Jessica Metheringham from Dissent Games, who I had previously met at this year's AireCon. It was great to see their new roll-and-colour games, which you can also buy as greeting cards. A great idea all year around.
I even briefly bumped into Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules, who, like me, was making his rounds to see who was there and spot some gems. For the first time in... well... ever, Paul wasn't attending the exhibition to demo games on behalf of CGE. At least that was the idea before the show. As it turned out later, he couldn't help himself and ended up demoing games anyway.
Busy, Busy, Busy
The show itself was clearly much busier than usual. That was certainly true for the first day of the exhibition. Fridays are usually the quieter days for UK Games Expo, as it's a weekday and people are at work or children are at school. Families don't usually attend until Saturday or maybe Sunday. The long weekend for the Queen's Jubilee changed that, of course.
So Friday was really packed, which was great to see. There were families looking at the latest games, the bring-and-buy sale had queues going all the way around it, the open gaming areas were really full and generally, there was a lot of buzz.
Everyone I spoke to, be it an exhibitor or a visitor, agreed. They saw a lot more people. That was especially good for the exhibitors of course, but it did make my life a little harder. Randomly speaking to exhibitors wasn't quite as easy as it had been in the past. Luckily, I had already booked a number of meetings. That meant I just needed to turn up on the stand and it wouldn't take long for me to have a chat.
So I got to see the always wonderful Bez from Stuff By Bez and find out about the many new games she had already released or was about to bring out. I was kindly given a review copy of A game about stuffing balloons as a team, without talking. It looked like a really fun co-operative card game that I can't wait to play with my wife and the wider family. So keep an eye out for a review on this website.
I also met the wonderful Eleni who you may know as Cardboard Rhino and who is now part of the content creation team at Czech Games Edition (GE). She gave me a quick run-through of Starship Captains which looked really interesting. The game looks very much like a famous TV science-fiction series from the 1960s that has since been turned into a massive franchise. Yes, the one with the Vulcans. So I can't wait to give that a go. I reckon my wife and I will enjoy it a lot and it has enough to offer to be fun for my games group too.
Speaking with Floodgate Games was also really good. I got a quick run-through of Décorum and Kites. The former is a co-operative game that seems to be almost like a campaign game, except that it's all about decorating your home together. Kites is a real-time card game with a number of sand timers that represent how long a kite has been up in the air. You play cards to turn the sand time over, so that the kite of that colour stays up longer. Quite frantic but also quite quick.
On the first day of the show, the Friday, I went straight to the Alley Cat Games stand and was given a demo of Autobahn, which is a game that I just need to buy for nostalgic reasons alone. It is a really clever game where you sort of have to work together to develop the motorway network in Germany, but there can be only one winner at the end. It's very tactical and looks like a lot of fun.
I was also very honoured to be given a demo of Aquamarine, the next roll-and-write from Postmark Games. Let me say right away that I'm not a fan of roll-and-write games. They usually feel more like filling in a form or a spreadsheet and I'd much rather play Yahtzee in that case. However, Aquamarine is very different. You're a diver who tries to enjoy the flora and fauna of a reef and that really comes across as you play. I think the way the diving works is really clever and it's also really easy to learn.
The demo of Aquamarine also gave me the opportunity to catch up with Rory Muldoon, who featured in the Let me illustrate podcast series and whom I had seen at this year's AireCon. I also finally met Matthew Dunstan, who actually ran the demo. What a wonderful person and such a prolific designer. It was a real pleasure.
The wonderful Scott James of Minerva Tabletop gave me a demo of his game Six Days of Silence, which is still being developed, but already looks really interesting. Just think of the Alien franchise. It is a co-operative game where you can't communicate, at least not a lot, but there is a twist. The monster in the game actually learns as you play. It's brilliant and I can't want to get a prototype to review this game.
Friendly Faces - Old and New
I also met up with Robin Kay of Ruined Sky games. The upcoming Circulari is now on track to be released in 2023. It's such a wonderful brain burner puzzle that I have talked about a lot previously. I really can't wait for it to be finally published. There will be a solo mode as well, which I can tell you looks fantastic. So keep an eye out for this one!
I also finally got to meet Nikita Sullivan from Atikin Games in person. Her upcoming game Malum Hortus looks really great. Nikita is drawing all of the art for the game herself and you can see how much passion she has for this project. The crowdfunding campaign for this game is scheduled for later this year. So check it out and sign up for a reminder now.
Gavin Jones of Jones Family Games Night was very hard to track down. He was demoing on the Ravensburger stand, so should have been easy to find. Yet, it took me three attempts to finally get to speak to him. I knew him via social media, but this was the first time I met him in person. He was very kind to give me a copy of Alien: Fate of the Nostromo, which I will play and review in due course.
I also finally got to meet Rhi Saunders on the Stop, Drop & Roll stand, who was there alongside Rob Ingle. They were showing off their pre-production copy of Earth Rising, as well as running demos of Pugs in Mugs. They looked really busy, which was great to see.
It was also good to finally meet Benji from Osprey Games and thank him for the many review copies I had been sent. I also used the opportunity to get more information about their upcoming Undaunted: Stalingrad, which takes this amazing series to the next level, creating a sort of legacy gaming experience, but one that is fully resettable. You basically play over several campaigns and depending on what happens in one battle, the next one will be different. So from battle to battle, your troops change and so does the terrain. There will be buildings that can be destroyed, which will affect subsequent battles. I can't wait to try this one!
I also had a look at Castles in the Sky which is a book for a tabletop skirmish game. I've never played these sorts of games before and as I seem to be getting more and more into war games, I thought it was time to see what they are all about. I've already started reading the book and am quite excited about it all. Don't hold your breath quite yet, but I do intend to try and play this game system and review it at some point. Please be patient though.
It was also great to see how the hobby is starting to tackle more serious and important topics. I had the pleasure of speaking with Rich Oxenham of Hatchling Games about Inspirisles, which is an RPG that tries to teach sign language, both ASL as well as BSL. I also spoke to Danielle Hampson who had two games at UK Games Expo. First of all, Autismo, which I got a chance to play and which tries to teach people a little more about autism. The other game, called Mind Games, tries to draw attention to the issue of domestic abuse. It's great to see that our hobby has these games that try and educate through play and that don't shy away from really sensitive and important topics.
Of course, I did see many more people, but I can't list you all here. Just a quick shout-out to Mark Cooke, Rory O'Connor, Michael Fox and Russ of For Chits & Giggles. It was great to see and speak with all of you at UK Games Expo 2022. I was really exhausted afterwards, but also full of energy. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. I'll see you next year... if not before.