UK Games Expo 2018 - Day 1
After 3 days, 300 miles driven, and plenty of gaming, this year’s UK Games Expo has drawn to a close. The show was bigger and better than ever this year, with 30% more people coming through the doors to see 30% more exhibitors. Having the show spread out to Hall 2 has been excellent for them, allowing more stands, more room for open gaming and more tournament space for those inclined. Even with all the additional people to last year, it never felt too busy, and apart from a short period on Saturday it felt easier to get around and we definitely managed to get more demos this year. That could be because it seemed like there were more publishers doing demos this year, at least that is what it felt like. There were the usual number of game stores and distributors selling games and accessories but almost every other stall had somewhere to sit and someone to demo the latest offerings or show off their own in development games which was great.
We drove up on the Friday morning and parked up at our hotel which was a nice 7-minute Uber out from the NEC, no Hilton or Ibis for us this year. The Uber’s worked out great though, each way was around a fiver and apart from one time they were reliable and got us back and forth easy enough. They also get to drop off right at the hall so no long walk from the car parks, which were also £12 per car so cost more than 2x Uber anywho.
The queues to collect tickets were not too bad, it was obviously the busiest time as the doors were just opening, but the lines moved quickly, and we went straight through into Hall 2 to avoid the masses jumping into the main hall. Past the Fantasy Flight Games tournament area where they were having their European Championships, but not quite as far as the colossally busy Bring and Buy, there were several normal booths set-up where we got our first games in.
The first of those being one that I was looking forward to checking out before we went which was the tablet based, video and board game hybrid system from Wizama. The tablet was huge, bigger than an iPad Pro, but wasn’t too heavy, and acted as the board on the table. It came with pawn style playing pieces, a deck of cards, a dice and a dice tray. The developers currently have 3 games loaded on the board with plans to make more which will be on an app store like area of the device. The game we played had you roll the dice in the dice tray, which then automatically sensed the number rolled and showed this on the game. You could then move your playing piece on the tablet, which painted the squares behind it to your colour. Movement could be taken back, and multiple paths taken and it all showed on the tablet in real time. You could then elect to fire a shot at your opponents by waving a card over one of the four edges of the tablet, which would detect the number and colour used to pick the target and strength of shot. That person could then scan a card of their colour to defend, with the highest number winning and causing more tiles to be painted over. The winner was the player who reached 25 squares first or had the highest amount after a certain number of rounds. The game itself was simple but using the physical game pieces to interact with the digital board was incredible, and it all just worked really well. The games they want to make will obviously leverage the technology the most, but it’s easy to see how this could be applied cleverly to other licensed games. Imagine playing Dixit where each player waves their card over the display quickly and the computer will do the admin of shuffling, setting the numbers out, placing the cards correctly and making sure it all happened almost instantaneously. We came away super impressed with the whole thing and will certainly be keeping an eye on the Kickstarter later this year, though with an unconfirmed price of around £350, it won’t be hitting the mainstream just yet.
Next up and just round the corner still up in Hall 2 we got to check out Beasts of Balance. While I hadn’t heard of Beasts of Balance before, sounds like it has been out as a Co-operative game for a couple of years, but publisher Sensible Object was here to demo a new competitive mode which is coming out in a couple of months. Another hybrid digital and physical game, Beasts of Balance comes with a platform that the game is played on, as well as requiring players to download an app for a tablet or phone to run the meat of the game off. The mode we played was for 3 players, one for each of the earth, the sea, and the sky. Players would pick a physical animal shape, scan it on the base of the tower and then place it on top. This would cause the animal, such as a bear, eagle, whale, or flamingo, display on that players area on the app. The next player would then pick an animal and do the same, trying to balance it on top and build the largest possible animal tower. There are other special pieces which let you merge animals together to make new species, or steal animals from other players areas, which are activated by placing the piece on the tower and then the action happening on the app. If a player knocks the tower down they have a number of seconds equal to their current score, normally 10-20 to try and rebuild everything back up and resume the game, if not then whoever had the most points left then wins. The gameplay was quite simple, selecting and stacking animals or pieces on a tower was the bulk of it, with some strategy to selecting when to use some of the powers. The app worked well until the end when it completely crashed (it was in beta!) and seeing the animal hybrids and actions display on the screen was kind of cool. We enjoyed playing it through the once, and it seems like it would be cool to show new players, but there wasn’t too much depth from what we saw, and the price was quite high for the type of game it was, currently £69 on Amazon for the base game. Will keep an eye on it though, as it seems like a great family game for a few plays if I can grab a copy for slightly less.
We then sauntered off through some of the art stalls and past the game play test area where budding designers were testing and getting feedback on their prototype games. Unfortunately, as it was early and most people had gone in and sat at any available table, everything was full when we went past so we headed down into the madness of Hall 1.
We went across to Alley Cat Games to try another of the games that I had my eye on before the show. Dice Hospital is a dice and worker placement hospital sim, where players grab ambulances full of patients (dice) and then use the rooms and specialists in their built-up hospitals to cure them (increase their value) until they get released as healthy, good-as-new dice. Unfortunately, from somewhere around turn 2 on-wards it never seems like you have enough actions to heal all your little dice each turn, and the neglected ones will deteriorate (decrease their value) until they pop their clogs and leave the hospital in the less desirable way, gaining the player negative points along the way.
The game seemed incredibly well balanced from the short time we spent with it, and it seemed that multiple different strategies all seemed viable, depending on the hospital rooms you build and specialists you hire. There was more depth than it first appeared, especially in the way points were scored. A player receives increased points the more patients they heal in a single turn, which leads you to thinking about ways to set up turns where you can get 3 or 4 over the line at once, all while trying not to fill up the beds so that new patients kick the bucket immediately. Getting your hospital engine running just right seemed like a good and rewarding challenge and happy to say I really enjoyed it. Late KS pledges (or as they are more commonly known as, pre-orders) are being taken on the Alley Cat Games website, and after one play I think I’m going to be ordering my own copy.
After a quick demo of Game’s Workshops Shadespire, which we enjoyed but resigned to never having the time or space for, we went to see one of the bigger games from last year, Sub Terra. Inside The Box’s ‘cooperative game of terrifying cave escape’ looks great when laid out on a table after a few turns. Players pull tiles from a stack to investigate the cave with their band of explorers, trying to find the exit before they get crushed by rocks, flooded by waters, or eaten by horrible horrors. The explorers each have their own passive and active abilities making them all an asset, and all those abilities will be needed to get them out alive. The artwork on the player cards and the tiles is well done and thematic, and the whole package just has amazing production quality, including the box which will look good on any shelf. The game was great fun, and while we got every caver out of there alive it was close, and we had a blast. One of our group stood up and purchased the biggest most deluxe version they had after a single game, which is the best compliment we could give it.
After some more browsing the stalls, where I picked up a copies Santorini and Queendomino, two games I have had my eye on, there was time for one more game on the way out. We noticed an empty table for Ticket To Ride New York and, knowing it was only a 10 minute game, decided to give it a go. If you’ve played TTR then you will know how this works, just on a smaller map with more constrained routes. It was OK, but if you’re going to play TTR then you’re better off with a one of the expansion maps that actually adds new mechanics like UK. As far as super quick games go it was alright, but there are better short games out there than a pared down TTR.
With that the hall doors shut for the day, and after stopping for a beer and a few rounds of No Thanks – in which victory was stolen from me on the last card and given to someone else by the player in last place, for no other reason than spite – we headed back to drop off our purchases and get some dinner before some late night open gaming. It was at that point we had our one taxi related issue which I alluded to earlier, and we were unable to get back to the expo in time to see The Dark Room =( which was a fantastic show last year, hopefully we plan things out better next year and get to see it again!
That’s it for the day 1 round up. We played a handful of other games on the Saturday, like Game of Thrones Catan and Full Moon Jacket, and saw some of the live recordings too. I have some more thoughts on those so I’ll do another post on those later in the week as this is already running long!