Now in its 12th year, the UK Games Expo (UKGE) is Britain’s largest annual board game event. Held in Birmingham each year, as the hobby itself has grown exponentially in recent years the Expo has grown with it – moving from a hotel-based event to one that now sprawls over several halls of the NEC Arena.
But what does UKGE offer visitors – from new gamers just getting into the hobby through to experienced old cynics; not to mention those on the fringes of the hobby, or those trying to make an impact as a player in the industry: from game to graphic design?
UK Games Expo for new gamers and families
One of my favourite aspects of the Expo is how much it has embraced its role in encouraging new players into the hobby.
Throughout the halls you’ll find enthusiastic and friendly staff ready to point you in the right direction – and they’ll be pointing you towards curated play areas such as the Family Zone. Here you’ll find a huge library of games along with an enthusiastic band of volunteers happy to teach them to you. And of course, if you find one that’s a hit with the family, they’ll be on hand to buy too.
There will also be ‘huge’ versions of some of the hobby’s favourite titles for you to get to grips with, alongside all the staples of kids entertainment (yes, you’ll probably end up with your face painted – sorry). And it also now a big event on the cosplay circuit, so expect to see people wandering around as characters from your favourite sci-fi, fantasy and superhero films, TV shows and comics (yes, there will be Daleks).
And in another show of support to the industry as a whole, you’ll be able to play the games up for (and winning) the Imagination Gaming Family and Education Awards. There’s even a children’s roleplaying games section in the zone (for kids aged seven to 12-years-old).
UKGE for the seasoned player
Many of my gamer friends are pretty cynical about Expo, having been in the ‘olden days’ when it was largely just an open gaming get-together in a rather expensive hotel in the midlands. And while bits of that are still true, to a point, it has a hell of a lot more to offer now.
The shopping area was impressive last year, including a massive bring-and-buy area alongside both big name publishers and lots of smaller, aspiring UK startup design teams. But this year the list of exhibitors is a who’s-who of game publishing: you can’t argue with a list including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight, Days of Wonder, Asmodee, Mayfair/Lookout, Pegasus, Queen, Czech Games Edition, Z-Man and Portal. UK Games Expo is genuinely on the worldwide list of events now – time to wake up, chaps!
Alongside shopping and open play, you’ll find a host of tournaments to take part in (you’ll need to sign up pre-event though). This year includes official European Championships in games including Netrunner, Game of Thrones LCG, Star Wars Armada, Star Wars Destiny and Star Wars: The Card Game LCG; the Catan Regional Championship and the Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Agricola UK National Championships – plus loads more. It’s a huge mixture – from the official Pokemon Regional Championships to more than 15 events being run by The British Historical Games Society.
As a budding game industry player
With the kind of quality of publishers mentioned above, it should already be a no-brainer to attend if you’re wanting to get into the industry; there is no better date in the UK gaming calendar to meet some of the key players in the gaming professions.
If you’re a budding game designer, they’ve stepped things up again this year. Playtest UK has has its Playtest Zone at the Expo for years, where you can bring your prototype and have it tested by members of the public, and maybe even some fellow designers (I’ve spent a little bit of time volunteering here in the past and I can promise you, it is almost consistently packed out with both players and designers).
But in addition they’ll be holding a ‘pitch to publishers’ game design speed-dating event, which already has the likes of Mayfair and WizKids signed up to check out the prototypes of up-and-coming designers (but you’ll need to sign up before April 29). Trust me – even if no one is interested in publishing a game, you’ll get some absolutely invaluable feedback at this kind of event.
As a fan of geek culture
While this is a three-day event focused on board, card and roleplaying games there is so much going on: anyone interested in geek culture in general can easily make a packed day out of it, if not more.
Alongside the cosplay already mentioned, you’ll find stalls selling all kinds of fun stuff – from T-shirts and cuddly toys to comics and accessories. But you can also meet authors (including Jonathan Green and Richard Denning) and guests (including the Shut Up and Sit Down and Dice Tower teams), blow your budget at the charity auction, watch the Captain Scarlett tribute show, or check out one of the many seminars on everything from making, selling and marketing games, or writing like a pro, to getting involved in a live podcast.
Single day tickets cost £13/8 (cheaper price for 11-15-year olds), with children 10 and under getting free admission. There are also family tickets (two adults and two children) starting from £35 for a single day. Many of the events will need extra tickets, but things such as the shopping areas, family zone etc are included in the price.
Visit the official UK Games Expo site for all the excruciating details you may need, including all the boring stuff like parking and opening hours. See you there!