This past weekend saw the return of the UK Games Expo, UK’s largest tabletop gaming convention. Having ventured up to sunny Birmingham last year I once again travelled up with @brodyrip @paul and @zook leaving bright and early Friday morning for a weekend filled with gaming and beer.
Friday was an early start, bad planning and excitement had me up at 5.30am to finish packing my bag. After downing a litre of coffee (no exaggeration, I’m not a morning person) we made our way up to Euston for the 8.40 train to Brum land, commandeering someone else’s train seat in the process. From what I remember of last year Friday was a huge queuefest with people buying and collecting tickets from the same location making pre-purchasing them completely pointless. This year saw that wrinkle ironed out and whilst there was a queue it wasn’t anywhere near as long as last time and before we knew it we were set loose in the dual expo halls of the Birmingham NEC.
The sheer expanse of this thing has to really be seen to be appreciated. Last year the one hall felt massive but the with the addition of a second the event truly is epic.
Having missed out on alot of the demos last year one of our priorities this time was to get those done on the Friday before the manic Saturday rush made the queue times equal those of the like you’d find in Disneyland. I’ll outline the games I personally played here but know that the other guys might have played other things whilst I was off lustfully looking at all the RPG books I promised I wouldn’t buy.
This was the first game we played of the entire expo and I wish I had better things to say about it but ultimately I think we all left the table feeling like we’d wasted an hour. The game is a civilisation experience, taking a fledgling Mediterranean people from the first millennium BC and founding cities through conquest and commerce to leave an indelible mark on the tomes of time. Sadly the description of the game only leaves you feeling that the experience of playing it was a huge missed opportunity.
You get to take a couple of actions on your turn but based on what you want to accomplish you’ll find that most (if not all?) of these require you to have various different types of workers. In order to obtain these workers you need to use one of your actions, meaning half of your time is spent gaining workers and the other half spending them on expanding your civilisation. So far, so good right? Well yeah, but most of these actions need so many varying type of workers to to be able to complete that there just isn’t enough actions or time to collect enough. When you finally do have enough workers the game round moves on meaning the actions you want to complete get cycled out for newer, better actions… but better actions means more workers and you’re back to ‘wasting’ your time collecting more. The cycle goes on and repeats.
Unless we got something drastically wrong, which is entirely possible as our host wasn’t 100% on the rules this is a game I probably won’t ever play again and certainly one I wouldn’t be able to recommend. MOVING ON!
Bring & Buy
Along with @paul I paid a visit to the bring and buy to get in early on any potential bargains. This thing is insane. Imagine a church jumble sale filled with nothing but your favourite games, now multiply it by 100 to get an idea of how much fucking stuff is there. The bring and buy this year was quite easily double the size of last years and the bigger space meant they could allow more people in – I think we queued for about half an hour, which might sound long but for the promise of spoils beyond it was nothing! I walked out with a Kickstarter version of Endure the Stars (Zombicide in space) which I had my eye on last year when it was available and to my joy I found it completely unplayed. STEAL. @paul managed to get his hands on a game of Twilight Imperium REX and a fun little game called Skull which might have become one of the highlights of the entire weekend.
So, I promised I wouldn’t buy any RPG’s but a little playtest wasn’t going to hurt anyone, right? Well… maybe. My experience with the first edition of Pathfinder is very limited but playing D&D 5e and Paizo’s other offering in Starfinder this is definitely more of the former than the latter. Streamlined and very much “pick up and play” this game just felt ‘right’. I can’t speak for anything outside of the small combat scenario we played but right off the bat is the fact there is no initiative modifier anymore. Gone. No more dumping points in DEX just to get the jump on your enemies and go first. Initiative is now based on whatever you were doing when the combat started. I was playing a rogue, as a group we were sneaking up an enemy encampment and I naturally stuck to the brush beside the path, weaving from tree to tree using my stealth to scout ahead. So when combat started I rolled stealth, our warrior who was observing and looking for enemies rolled perception. If you were a wizard studying your spells you’d roll arcana and so on. This is such a minor change but adds a massive difference, you’re no longer penalised for not being the most dexterous character of the group but instead you’re rewarded for doing what your character is good at doing.
The other big change was combat. Combat is so much more dynamic now with lots of movement. Instead of being limited to doing some variation of move and attack you’re given 3 actions. You can spend these actions on whatever you want. You want to move 3 times to close in on your enemy for the next round? Go for it. You want to swing your sword 3 times? Sure, they’ll be a penalty for each swing after the first but you can -still- do it. As a warrior type you can use an action to draw your shield giving you an increase in defence the next time you’re attacked which is handy if you suspect you’re about to be set upon. As a wizard you’re able to supercharge your spells, foregoing actions this turn to blast enemies the next.
Attacks of opportunity are now a class skill, not everyone has access to them. As a warrior you’ve honed your skills on the battlefield so you get to make these as a default, as a rogue my character didn’t. Which might sound harsh but it applies to enemies too and gave me plenty of opportunities to move behind my opponents and taking them out with my sneak attack ability. All in all, this had me very excited and if there is a fantasy system out there to pull me away from D&D 5e this could possibly be it.
I had no idea what this game was before I went into it, the miniatures and the artwork looked fantastic and when the premise of the game was explained to me I loved the idea of it. In this game the players take the role of a band of supernatural bad guys from Vampire Lords and Undead Liches to Succubi and Headless Horsemen teaming together to fight off fork and pitchfork wielding villagers who have come to kill them. Or re-kill them. Whatever.
The game takes place in a castle with the centre room housing the heart gem which the players must defend at all costs. On each round villagers rush in to make their way either to the heart gem or to the closest player character where they quite likely meet their doom. These villagers though are backed up by slightly harder demon hunters and they’re backed by heroes, each increasing in strength and each entering the castle at a random draw of a card. The game was very much OKAY. I think it could be fun little time waster during a games evening or a way to get more casual non-gamers to give something a try. Each hero comes armed with a handful of special abilities and there is a levelling up mechanic which gives it a little RPG flavour but ultimately it felt lacking and nowhere near worth the £80 price tag attached to it. There wasn’t a whole lot of depth to the gameplay and it played very much like a boardgame version of a tower defense game you’d find on the appstore.
We went back to the hotel which was thankfully alot closer than last year’s and from there we headed down to the Hilton where the UKGE had hired out two mahoosive conference rooms filled with tables for nothing but gaming and beers. The first game that hit the table was cycling simulator, Flamme Rouge. I love this game. It’s simple and easy to learn and has an element of strategy to it that isn’t entirely difficult to get your head round providing you know how to count to 9.
Greek Gods gifting warring tribes with various powers to help them conquer one another? That’s Cyclades. Awesome game where the winner is the first to build two metropolises… metropoli … a metropolis x2. The game’s shining star (in my opinion at least) comes in the form of a bidding system between rounds which has you bid on the favour of various gods. Only one player can access the abilities of one god at a time so if you have your eye on Apollo and his war waging ways you better be able to pony up the coins because the other players have the same idea.
Combined with this God bidding is the ability to purchase single use powers from mythological creatures. It was buying the powers of Pegasus that won the game.
Tyrants of the Underdark
Set in the D&D universe this game has each player take control of a backstabbing, Drow family. You then set out to murder your opponents and supplant their troops to take control of cities in the subterranean world of the Underdark. The game is played by placing your troops around the board but also by collecting cards from a market that give you points, abilities and the option to place more troops to carry out your assassinations.
We played this with the two new expansion decks, Undead & Aberrations and man, I had a hard time with them. The deck proves itself to be very defensive with many of the secondary card abilities offering not much more than the ability to place and remove your spies – which is awesome if your plan is to stop your opponents from scoring VP’s but not so great for you scoring points yourself. My usual strategy involves promoting early and often but there seemed to be a huge lack of cards offering the promotion ability and by the time I’d waited to get one in my deck I was already fighting to keep up with the murderous bastards I was playing with. Even then, the cards promoted didn’t seem to offer many more points than they did for being in your hand. All in all, a deck that works against how I typically play the game but it was my own fault I lost due to not shifting strategy. I love Tyrants but this deck betrayed me like a Drow matron.
A space board themed game about generating pulsars around stars in space and researching technology to score victory points. We played with additional tech boards this time but man, I’d been up since 5.30am and by the time this got to the table I was pretty much spaced out myself. It was only my second time playing Pulsar but it’s a game that has an amazing amount of depth and ways to win given it’s short play time. Being as tired as I was made me feel as though I was letting the game down and not able to give it the amount of concentration it deserves. I didn’t score too badly but I was definitely thinking about bed.
I was uncharacteristically the first of the guys to go to bed Friday and after a good nights sleep I was ready to tackle Saturday head on, this was going to be the marathon of the weekend. An entire day spent on the Hilton gaming rooms doing nothing but playing one boardgame after another until we passed out. Good times! I even managed to steal myself a bit of breakfast too.
Saturday is always the busiest day and not in a good way. You literally find yourself squeezed up against the person infront of you as you all shuffle your way around the expo hall like the Human Centipede trying to look at something, anything before you’re forcefully ushered along by the thousands of people behind you. Safe to say, we wanted to avoid that this year and instead set out to spend our day playing games and meeting guys from the Board Game Trading & Chat group on Facebook.
First off, the art style of this game is unlike anything I’ve seen before it. Original and quirky, it really grabs your attention. Secondly, the depth. My god, there’s a lot of depth. So much so that I bet the first go at this for many people, maybe even the second is spent doing nothing but learning how the game works. It took me about 4 rounds to figure out the Guild system alone and even then I felt there was more to learn I hadn’t even touched on.
I can’t go in to how the game plays or how you win because to be frank, I don’t feel qualified enough to say. I will say that it definitely piqued my interest enough for me to give it another go. It’s challenging but in a way that begs you to try again. I spent the few hours we played this trying to do as many different things as I could just to figure out how they worked, in the process I inadvertently forced all of @brodyrip ‘s pawns to become stuck in place by using the monster. Bonus points for that at least.t
For this game we had two guests join us from the Facebook group. These guys knew their stuff and were a good laugh, bluffing is alot harder with people you’ve only just met but it comes as no surprise to anyone that’s played it before that the Cylon toasters won… again. BOOOOOO.
We split up here, our group and a bunch of the guys from Facebook sort of merging into one mega group. I ended up playing The Networks with @zook , @paul and one of the guys whilst @brodyrip plIayed Railways of Nippon with some of the others. The Networks was a great little game. You each control a TV network where the aim is to hire stars and put them in shows at various time slots, if you match the star to the show you generate viewers which equal points. The winner is the player with the most viewers at the end of the game.
There are lots of cards to buy and all of them are a spoof in one form or another of an actual TV show. Good, quick fun.
This is such a simple game that I can’t believe how engaging and fun it is. Each player starts with four cards, one of these cards has a skull on it and the others have flowers. One at a time you place these cards face down infront of you. At any point you can start a bidding war by declaring how many flowers you think you can find. If you’re fairly certain that the player beside you has put a flower card down and you know you have you’d start by saying “I can find two.” This gives the other players an option, do they up your bid, saying they can find 3 or they do they let you attempt it knowing that if you find a skull you have to forfeit one of your cards? The group goes around like this with the bid getting increasingly higher until everyone passes. Then you sit in anticipation as the winning player has to try and find 6 flowers and you know full well you just put a skull card down. A fun game made funner but the addition of extra players.
Much like Skull this game is all about bluffing. Very similar to Avalon, everyone is given a card which tells them their role in the game. With one player being Hitler and a couple of others being his fascist cohorts. Hitler does not know who his allies are but his allies know who he is. The game goes around the table with people trying to vote in a new chancellor. Hitler’s allies will clearly want him in but based on how he or she has acted it might not be so easy to win the vote of the group. When you do get voted in you’re handed two cards by the president (who changes every round but without a vote) and its up to you to either play a Fascist (red) or Liberal (blue) card. If Hitler and his allies play 5 fascist cards, they win. The fun here comes from when the president hands you a red and a blue card and you decide to play the red, telling the rest of the group he gave you no choice and gave you two red cards. It really tests your ability to bluff and divert blame. Lots of fun, especially given we played it with 10 players!
A Fake Artist Goes to New York
Two words to describe this one. “Baby” and “Jesus”. Speak to @brodyrip about it 😉
I went to bed Sunday at the same time I woke up Friday, almost 5am. Saturday was a blast and I haven’t laughed so much in ages. I had an awesome time playing games and it was truly the highlight of the entire weekend. I had to leave abit earlier than the other games but a quick foray back into the expo hall had me do another quick run of the Bring & Buy and sadly finding nothing but picking up the Conan boardgame from the Chaos Cards stand.
All in all, I had an amazing weekend filled with gaming but the bulk of my enjoyment came from playing the games we all spend so much money on and so much time learning and seeking out. If you’ve ever considered going but had reservations of any kind just drop them and go. The expo is a fantastic event and everyone is welcoming and friendly, you’ll never struggle to find anyone to play with or anything to play.