After many years of thinking about it, this year it was time to lose my exhibition virginity with the UK's largest (and now the worlds' third largest) games expo.
Now in it's 11th year, the UK Games Expo was held at the National Exhibition Center (NEC) in Birmingham, England in early June. I'd arranged to travel up with a group of friends and spend the Saturday and Sunday taking in the glorious sights and inglorious smells of NEC Hall 1, and truthfully I had no idea what to expect. I don't think I've ever been to a convention, let alone a gaming convention, so I was totally in the dark.
After arriving around lunchtime on the Saturday and promptly grabbing a (pretty decent) pizza in the hall, it was time to get busy. I'd taken time beforehand to mark all the games I was interested in seeing and/or picking up using the excellent Tabletop Together Tool; The tool crossreferences data in Boardgamegeek to tell you what stand you can find each game at, so theoretically it should have been straightforward to find everything. The map printed in the back of the programme did its best to confuse things however, but I did get round to see most of the stuff I'd wanted to.
I only actually spent £60 on games at the con, which initially I struggled to understand; on reflection though it became clear why. Although I went into the weekend with a list of some 20 things to potentially purchase, the hands-on experience of many actually dissuaded me from doing so. Prime cases in point were Scuttler's Island and HUNGER: The Show. I played HUNGER and I struggled to see the replayability in it, whereas Scuttler's Island was just lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Money saved, system beaten.
The games that did make the cut included EXIT Secret Lab, EXIT Abandoned Cabin, EXIT Pharoah's Tomb, Wordsy and the Survive: Oh My! expansion, which I (excitedly) stumbled across late on the Sunday. Yet, not a single one of those was bought for solo play.
Now, before you pour cement in my shoes and march me off to the Thames, allow me to defend myself. There's quite a lot of solitaire games that I have already Kickstarted, and those big hitters were out in full force at the UK Games Expo (Gloomhaven aside). Attending the expo was as much about picking up some new stuff as it was checking up on the stuff that's in progress: Gloom of Kilforth, Legends Untold, SUPERHOT Card Game and The City of Kings were all inspected to varying degrees, and it was great to see them in the flesh.
That seamlessly leads me onto my inaugural "best free stuff of the expo" award, which hands-down goes to Inspiring Games of Legends Untold fame. I popped over the say hi and walked away with no less than 4 promo cards and 2 art prints (box art from both the upcoming caves and sewer sets). Bravo indeed. This is one of the pieces of art in question (minus the title):
That aside, I picked up a Sub Terra promo after a couple of successful escapes, and should also have snagged some Statecraft promos following a play of the currently topical election game. However, in true politician broken-promises style, they'd run out of those promos by mid afternoon on Saturday. Sub Terra was pretty good fun although not enough to buy a copy, and Statecraft impressively captured the sheer boringness of politics. But hey, what do I know; both games won awards at the expo.
This year it felt like effectively a day and a half was long enough; I'd been round all the stands and played a few games here and there by that point. Next year though, for more of a complete experience, I'd love to play some post-expo games on the Saturday evening. It sounds like that really revolves around being booked into the NEC onsite hotels, so I'll look into that and judge the cost. As it goes we were in a Travelodge 10-15 minutes away this year for a very decent price. We managed a few evening games of Wordsy, but a few more meaty games would have scratched my itch a little more.
In any case, the fact that I'm talking about next year already speaks volumes.