Con report: UK Games Expo 2017

At last week’s UK Games Expo I managed to break my own PB for different hats worn and sleep deprivation, adding ‘PR demo guy for a publisher’ to my usual list of designer (on booth), designer (publisher meetings), designer (play-testing), journalist and punter. It was an exhausting four days, but thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

My PR stint involved showing the next three games from LudiCreations to a variety of games journalists: Iunu, Diesel Demolition Derby and Alexandria. I’m lucky enough to now have one of my co-designs with Matt Dunstan signed with Ludi now, so I’ll no longer be reviewing its games – but I wanted to give a bit of a preview of them here.

Elsewhere I got to help out a bit with demoing Armageddon to a steady flow of punters, grab a few new games to review and show some of my own new titles to some great publishers – as well as catching up with lots of old friends I only seem to see in Birmingham, Eastbourne and Germany nowadays!

Ludi’s latest creations

I was demoing three games for LudiCreations: one currently on Kickstarter, and two more on the way in the next month or so.

I had the pleasure of sharing the games with the fine people at The Game Pit Podcast, Polyhedron Collider, Creaking Shelves, Broken Meeple and Devon Dice. Hopefully you’ll be able to check them out for more opinionated articles.

Iunu is on Kickstarter until June 30, for as little as $10. It’s a simple yet clever 2-4 player card game with elements of drafting, set collection, building majorities and engine building. It has a delicious tipping point midway though and, despite looking very simple, packs some genuine decisions into a short playing time (sub-one hour). It demoed well with everyone I played with – and you can try it yourself on Tabletopia.

Diesel Demolition Derby is a simple ‘robot smash’ drafting game from Matt Dunstan. Rounds are super fast, with many cards having effects that hit your opponents’ robots as you all try to get the most strength in machines into your tableau – but the bigger the robot, the bigger the target and the little ones, played well, will often give you those satisfying David and Goliath moments. There are a bunch of arena cards that make every round different, it plays 2-6 and lasts about 30 minutes. One for fans of filler games, drafting, simple combat, micro games, and trying to read your opponents’ plans.

Alexandria is an asymmetric, action point allowance and hand management game, played out on a modular board representing the great Library of Alexandria (2-4 players, 1-2 hours). Each character has a unique card deck and they all play very differently; as you’re trying to save particular items from the fire, you can bet one of your opponents is trying to smash them to gain their own advantage! The board shrinks each round, adding to the tension, while a bunch of reaction cards keep everyone on their toes. It tells a strong story, and will appeal to euro fans who like a bit of interaction in their games and anyone who enjoys putting together card combos.

The now, the soon and the maybes

It was great to see Queen Games at Expo, with two tables demoing Armageddon. They didn’t have loads of copies with them but they sold what they had, and the tables were full all weekend. It was fun watching groups sit down to learn the game but instead of playing a couple of turns, stay for the whole game.

It was also great to catch up with Seth Jaffee, of Tasty Minstrel Games. He has been developing Matt Dunstan and my next release, Pioneer Days, which should be out later in 2017. It’s a dice-driven euro game which I think does a good job of bringing out the Oregon Trail theme; and I’m super pumped at how the finished version is turning out.

Armageddon co-designer David Thompson and me also showed our most recent two prototypes to several publishers. It’s hard to believe how far the Expo has come in just a few years, in terms of the staff from top publishers in attendance: they genuinely see it as a key event on the calendar. The likes of AEG, Pegasus, Queen, Mage Company and Mayfair all had senior staffers on hand, to name but a few. We didn’t sign any deals, but had some positive meetings.

Reviews incoming

I was deliberately subdued on the review front for two reasons: one, I’ve still got games to review from Essen so didn’t want to add to the pile too much; and two, there really wasn’t that much ‘new’ stuff on show that interested me. There were lots of mini-heavy offerings, some pretty rustic looking affairs and a bunch of hopeful Kickstarters: not really my bag!

I did grab Design Town from Pegasus; Kingdomino and Baobab (Tumble Tree) from Coiledspring/Blue Orange, and The Cousin’s War from Surprised Stare. Design Town, or Flip City, is an interesting deck-builder; Tumble Tree a great little dexterity game; Kingdomino a light domino game recently announced as one of this year’s Spiel de Jares nominees; and The Cousin’s War is a light and fast two-player card driven war game. Hopefully I’ll get them all reviewed before Essen…

As for being a punter, I realised on Sunday morning that I’d played 15 games at the con to that point – only one of which was published! That was classic Knizia bidding game Medici, that I’d never played. I managed an inglorious last place but did enjoy the challenge – thanks to Rogue from GCT Studios for teaching.

Pros and con cons

At the end of the weekend, thoughts inevitably turned to next year. This time I stayed at the Hilton Metropole for the first time, which was brilliant in terms of being able to sneak off and desocialise when all the crowds and noise got a bit much. And it was also a godsend on two occasions when I needed to demo games, but we couldn’t find a free table anywhere, so used my frankly ridiculous sized room.

But despite a comfy bed and fantastic breakfast, the hotel was pretty awful. Staff were often rude and/or incompetent (especially at the bar), my room was never properly cleaned and the price of everything – from the room to drinks and food – was ridiculous for the poor level of service provided. I get better cleaners/bar staff in London fleapits. I expect I’ll try and get into one of the other large hotels nearby, if I can afford it…

As for UK Games Expo itself, I continue to be amazed at how it copes with exponential growth every year with such little fuss and drama. As ever the Expo volunteers were helpful and smiling throughout the weekend, in stark contrast to those of the Hilton. But while the areas of the NEC used were well organised, the Hilton gaming space was at breaking point the whole weekend; a problem they’ll have to seriously address – and get ahead of – for next year. But i’m confident the organisers can, yet again, rise to the task.

2 thoughts on “Con report: UK Games Expo 2017

  1. Nice write up. The Genting Hotel is the way forward. Not cheap but oh so much nicer than the Hilton, 10 mins walk from the action and an oasis of calm. Already booked my room for next year.

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