Home Gaming Board games UKGE – annual board gaming convention at the NEC Birmingham.

UKGE – annual board gaming convention at the NEC Birmingham.

Written and photography by Hubert Hung.

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Background
The UK Games Expo (UKGE) is an annual event at the NEC Birmingham that has been growing year by year. It also the fourth largest expo of its kind in the world. It specialises in analogue board gaming spread over two of the NEC’s halls. It takes place over a long weekend during the first week of June.

Hall one is dedicated to vendors and publishers whilst hall two has areas for the aforementioned, plus an area where people can sell their games; a board game library; an open gaming area; a stage and tournament areas.

This was my first visit and only my second board gaming conventions. My first was Airecon earlier this year in Harrogate. I was not sure what to expect, but I had seen video footage of other ones so I had an idea. I did go with a plan. This expo was more selling and showing-off games, whilst Airecon is far more about playing games. You need to manage your expectations in this regard.

Day One – Arrival
I arrived on Thursday afternoon, collected my badge and headed for the press preview session in hall 2. There were a number of publishers showing off their new games or products/accessories. I made a beeline for Play Fusion as I had signed up to receive a publicity pack. You can read my review of their game Lightseekers. More content will be forthcoming on this game. They have a new game coming out themed with Games Workshop, Warhammer – Age of Sigmar. I was stoked when I was given two neoprene play mats for Lightseekers. I really hated the paper ones that came in the starter boxes.

Tom Vasel at the Play Fusion stand

As I was chatting with the rep, a tall American sporting a flat cap stooped down and started examining Lightseekers. He spoke to the other Play Fusion rep about the game. I kind of knew who this man was having watched numerous reviews produced by him and his team, the Dice Tower. It was Tom Vasel. I expected to see him at some point this weekend, but not this soon. We had a short conversation. Yes, Tom is pretty tall and very amiable.

Dave Luza from the Dice Tower and This game is broken

Minutes later, I also spoke to Dave Luza, one of the contributors to the Dice Tower, but based on this side of the Atlantic in Germany. A thoroughly pleasant and approachable man. We looked at the new forthcoming expansion for 7 Wonders. We were both excited by this latest expansion from Repos Productions.

Showing off the new 7 Wonders expansion

Another find was Spidermind Games with their prototype of a card game based on the old but legendary BBC Micro game, Elite. I am going to be itching to play this game and see what those pesky Thargoids have been up to. They also have an RPG manual if you like this wing of gaming.

Elite the card game with some ships you maybe familiar with.

After wandering around for a bit, I spied a game with beautiful art called ‘Thronestorm’ from Original Content London. It was the first game I picked up for review that weekend!

After wandering around and chatting with other people, I ran into Zee Garcia another reviewer from the Dice Tower. I asked him about recording board game reviews videos and he gave me a few helpful tips on how to overcome certain hurdles. Cheers Zee!

Zee Garcia from the Dice Tower and myself

Day Two – Friday
The next day was the expo in earnest. I got there early and walked in. It helps having received your badge the evening before. I was a bit giddy like a child on Christmas Eve. Where do you start? I looked around and spoke to Jane from Play Fusion. We had exchanged a few emails over the few months. It is always good to meet people for real.

Lightseeker packs for sale at the Play Fusion stand

She gave me a couple of Lightseekers packs so I could write a more comprehensive review of the game. There are six distinct ‘elements’, up to this point I had only been exposed to two of them. I now have all six plus a number of booster packs to customise my decks. Having the option to tweak or completely design your deck is one of the pros of this simple, but engaging game.

One of the many Lightseekers play mats with the health track around the edge.

I spoke to a number of publisher, large and small and picked up six games that are in the process of being reviewed. I have already started reading the rules and photographing the minis in the Battle of Britain Game by Richard Borg and published by the Plastic Solider Company.

The Plastic Solider Company with their LED suits.

Not only were there board games and accessories at the expo, one stall had replica wands from the Harry Potter and weapons from the Middle Earth movies. Are you geeky enough to name each one of these swords? Contact Games Quest if you want to know more about these replicas.

Do you know where all of these weapons are from? I did quite well.
Wands from Harry Potter.

For me, the biggest surprise was running into White Wizard Games. They are based in America and were not on the list of exhibitors. They are one of the first publishers I look for when perusing the long list of exhibitors. Whilst walking around I spied Rob Dougherty, the company’s founder and CEO. My chin hit the floor! Rob co-designed a game called Star Realms a wonderful player verses player game all in small box. It is not often that you find so much game in such a small package. This game and Hero Realms (a fantasy variation of the Star Realms, but with asymmetric character packs) are both in my top ten favourite board games of all time (I have played almost eighty different games since the 1st January 2018). I look forward to any new content. If you are new to board gaming, it will be one of the first games I would teach you especially if you like one verses one games.

Rob Dougherty the co-creator of Star and Hero Realms and me.

Next was a quick visit to the Dice Tower stand to buy a few promos and say, “Hi” to the crew. The highlight was meeting the Hughes family and chatting with Dan’s son. He is a blast! He spilled the beans on his dad’s game playing strategies or lack of them! Cora was also there smiling away sporting a t-shirt with her own dice avatar. Anna Wassenburg was there too. I gave her a plausible explanation for why she lost so badly to her sister in her Clank! video. Zee said he would remember it for next time he loses.

Then back to business to meet a publisher and check-out their wares. At Draw Lab Entertainment I was shown a couple of games: Mystic ScRolls (review to follow) and Witless Wizards a game by Chris Marling. I reviewed his previous game Pioneer Days. Witless Wizards is still a prototype, but I am looking forward to this offering.

The Witless Wizards box with a sample card.

I also visited Digisprite. I met them the evening before, but it took me a while to track their booth down. They are a small company from Dundee with a large stash of Irn Brew under the table (thanks for the can, Sam!). I got to see a preview of their steampunk themed game, “Doomsday Bots”. Another one to review once a production copy is available.

Doomsday bots prototype by Digisprite. It is on Kickstarter if you wish to back it.

The last one of the day, before we were asked to leave, was a visit to Room 17 Games. I saw a preview of their game Miremarsh. You send goblins into a swamp to achieve your nefarious plans. The goblin survival rate is pretty low. That is no problem, just send another one! The game board looks amazing. I hope the game is too. I have a copy of their game “Museum Rush” to review.

The Miremarsh prototype board with resin pieces.

That was one exhausting Friday! There were events in the evening, but I just wanted to crash and grab some food. Another day to come and it would be even more crowded.

Day three – Saturday

Cosplayers at the entrance to Hall one on Saturday. “Move along, move along.”

Saturday was far less manic for me even though the halls were very crowded. A few friends from various gaming groups were there with me and I was showing them around because I had the lay of the halls. One could not find the Grey Fox Games booth and I knew exactly where it was having bought a few promos from there for one of my top five games – Champions of Midgard. I helped another find a copy of the game “Harry Potter – Hogwarts Battle.” We have a review on this site. Just click the link. I also introduced her to a whole stack of other games.

I chatted with friends, saw a cosplay show (I would have had video footage of this, but for some strange reason the camera did not record any of it). I even bought a few games for myself. I still managed to do a bit of networking in the process. I headed home to Leeds about an hour before the hall closed. This had been a long weekend, but it had been a very fruitful couple of days. Now just a small pile of games to review!

As I was heading for the car park on a shuttle bus, I spied a couple of cosplayers. The dad was a Jedi, pretty obvious and a decent costume too. His daughter was dressed as Penny a character from the Web series RWBY. The dad said that I just made her day because I knew whom she was dressed as.

Penny from RWBY. She is combat ready!

What did I think of it all? I would have liked to have played at least one game either at one of the stalls or in open gaming area in evening. But, I went there with a different remit and that was to network as well as have fun. Was that achieved? Yes it was. Next year I will know what to expect and be able to build on connections I made over the weekend. There were loads of publisher I did not meet. Perhaps next time? I hope so. Drop us a line if you want us to review your game or games.

If you went what did you think of the expo or would like to know more? Please leave a comment below.

The game Space Bases on show.
Ticket to Ride New York, the smallest TtR game to-date.
Starship Samurai with the cool minis.

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