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UK Games Expo 2018 - Day 2


This is the second part of my look back at the UK Games Expo 2018, part 1 can be found over hyar


We awoke on Saturday in our local brummy BnB, discarded a pile of empty beer cans from the night before, and after a hearty breakfast cooked up by our very kind hosts we were on our way back to the NEC. We were expecting the second day of the Expo to be busier and louder, but we were looking forward to the hustle and bustle. Turns out, spreading into Hall 2 of the NEC had a huge impact on the show floor, even though attendance was up this year (as always), at no point did it feel like it was overcrowded or that we couldn't get in a game of something if we really tried. And it's in Hall 2 that we decided to start our day again. We had picked out some things we wanted to see again, but other than that it was another day of free roaming and trying to find the things we missed yesterday.


We walked along the first aisle in the hall which was crammed with small 1 metre square booths showcasing independent games made by individuals and small teams. This was in stark contrast to the bombast they were opposite, which was the Fantasy Flight Games tournament area, who were holding their European Championships for most of their games for the entire weekend. The first game we got to play was on one of the bigger stalls where they had multiple demo units set-up. The game was called Senryaku and was designed by Playkit Games. Senryaku is an abstract strategy game that pits 2 players against each other on a unique balancing board. Each player has a line of marbles on their side, and the goal is to get all of your marbles to the opponents side. However the balancing board makes this tricky as if you commit your marbles too fast then the board will tip and everything rolls away, losing you the game. It was an interesting concept, and I've not seen a board like that to add another level to a strategy game. We did feel that after just 2 quick games we were ready to move on though, it didn't seem like there was much of a long tail to the strategy elements and might need different rules sets or house rules to make it interesting long term.


Just behind them was Wren Games, showing off their card based co-op puzzle game Assembly. This was one of the most interesting demos we had as Janice, one half of the wife and husband design team, juggled giving us a demo with looking after her children, who were both amazing. It was a great exhibition and insight into the life of an indie board game designer, she was dedicated to making sure we understood the game and had a fun time whilst simultaneously making sure her kids were having a good time too. The dedication on show really shone through, and it was really touching to see how much these conventions can mean to people and families with such passion. The game itself can be played solo or by 2 players and tasks the players with rotating and swapping modules around a space station to get things fixed up before you can escape to safety. The game worked well with 2 players and didn't feel like 1 player could quarter-back the experience which is a plus for a co-op game. There were also different difficulty levels and some expansion cards that would help change things up for each different play-through. Since then and now their Kickstarter has been fully funded and they are now all set to put out their first game which is incredible.


The final game we played on Indie Street (not actually called that, but should be) was a hybrid worker-placement deck-building game designed by David Newton called Temp Worker Assassins. Playing through a dreary Monday-to-Friday as a Temp worker who has a hidden agenda of murdering the boss who also happens to be an Actuarial Orc is an awesome idea for a game. The art and humour both live up to the premise, with each card having a good amount of wit and great illustrations. Even the rewards cards you get are souped up office supplies, with players starting with blunt pencils and then claiming things like a CD-Shuriken or a bloody ruler. The game played more like a worker placement than a deck builder, with each Temp worker placing their meeples on certain areas in the office to do tasks that help them build their hand or discard starter cards. The room cards are dealt out at the beginning of the game and the game comes with more than you need in a single game so there is replayability in using different rooms each time. Overall we had a fun time with it, though some of that I feel might have been seeing each new pun name, or cool art card, and its hard to say if this would hold out on multiple plays. Either way, it was a fun small box game and a clever combination of base mechanics that gamers know well.


Moving closer to hall 1 there were a number of art stalls and various other independent designers and small publishers, before then moving on to the playtest area. I feel like if they have Hall 2 again next year and expand the floor coverage even more it would be good to see one of the big publishers up here among the smaller stuff, it would certainly help improve footfall to the games that need it more and would give it less of a sideshow feel and more like part of the show as a whole.

Moving down the stairs into Hall 1 and passing the main entry point to the Hall we lucked out and got an empty table for a game we really wanted to try out, Game of Thrones Catan. The reason being we had seen it for sale on a number of stalls and it's priced double that of a normal Catan and we really wanted to know why. With the only demo copy being the very first table you see as you come into Hall 1 it was crazy busy the whole weekend so it was fortunate we were able to come past and get a game. As soon as we sat down it was clear where the cost was coming from; plastic miniatures. The roads are plastic miniatures, the keeps and settlements are plastic miniatures, as are the guards, and the army of wildlings lining up to come over the wall, all miniatures. So much plastic. I understand that some games really do need plastic miniatures and they add to the overall aesthetic, but here, especially the roads, it just seems unnecessary and is adding £20+ to the cost of the box. The only ones that really felt necessary were the wildlings, who do look cool as they march through the North and down towards the wall.


The game plays very similar to Catan, in that you are rolling dice, taking resources, and building things so you can take more resources. Each player has a hero card that has a power that they can use each turn and then swap out for another available hero card, which adds a different tactical layer and is the most refreshing part of the game. As you play, wildlings spawn from various camps above the wall and slowly trudge down towards you, if they cross over the wall then no resources can be taken from those spaces and if too many pile over you all lose. Overall, it was slightly more interesting and tactical than vanilla Catan, but not double the price fun. It would be worth picking up and playing if you are a big fan of Catan (none of us are particularly rabid for it) or a fan of GoT. Though it does still have the same ending problem, where someone just slaps a few cards down out of nowhere and ends the game leaving everyone slightly unsatisfied.

Next up we headed out from the halls and over into the Suite to catch the Shut Up & Sit Down podcast being recorded. We arrived just before they started so were quite far back, but did manage to sneak some beers in to enjoy along with the show. As always the SUSD guys were incredibly funny, and their enthusiasm for the things they played and saw was infectious, people all around us were googling pictures of the games that were being discussed on their phones, seeing if things could be ordered. After a quick lunch by the Viking and Orc camps who hang out by the water just outside the NEC we headed back in for a couple more games.

Swinging by the huge Ice Cool booth we saw they were showing Ice Cool 2, a sequel and expansion for their penguin flicking family game, as well as a new game called Pyramid of Pengqueen. In Pengqueen, one player takes control of a mummy and one or more opponents play the role of the penguins. The game board is vertical and divides the two teams, with the player pieces being magnetic and sticking onto the maze like board. The mummy player can only see where there current piece is, but the penguin players can see themselves and where the mummy is. The aim of the game for the penguins is to gather one of each coloured treasure, while the mummy has to try and catch the penguins enough times to win the game. When a treasure is picked up the penguin has to show the mummy which treasure it was, giving away their location. The game plays quickly and is simple to explain, number of spaces moved is decided by an open dice roll so the mummy player can see the number of spaces moved and try and figure out where the little penguins got to. In reality I lost the penguins almost instantly and only managed to grab one or two across two games, slippery little things won both times though. Definitely a fun and family oriented game, it brings something a bit unique to the table, there are not many games with a vertical footprint like this.


The final game we played was a miniatures co-op game by Strangely Games called Full Moon Jacket. There was a bit of a buzz around the game as it was already fully funded at the end of last year so more than once we had a KS backer come past while we were demoing. The game is set in Vietnam during the war and is a classic rescue mission from the era, but with werewolves. The werewolves spawn relentlessly, trying to get in the way of your job to get to the colonel and get him out via helicopter. The gameplay was fluid and quick moving, with each player turn not taking long at all, and it certainly had a fair sense of panic about the whole thing as more and more werewolves were spawning. There is also a nice level of tension in the way they have used ammo in the same way a classic Resident Evil videogame might. Which is to say there are not many bullets to spare here, so you can't just spray and pray, you really have to think when is the right time to use your powerful weapons and items. It was a fun closing game for the day, and should be a real nice big box of miniatures on the way to it's backers soon.

And with that the Expo was closed for the night. We migrated back to Hall 2 which was housing open gaming this year for people that didn't want to brave the Hilton, which can get crazy busy at night. We had a few beers and played a few games of Queendomino, Hero Realms and Sub Terra before heading back to catch some Zs ready for the final day on Sunday, where we were planning to mop up the last few things we wanted to see, buy some things and then head home. It was mostly that, we didn't play anything new and spent most of the morning scouring the shop stalls and charity auction for good deals, so I won't write something separate about the day.

Thus the best weekend in the board gaming year in the UK came to a close, and the days until the 2019 show started counting down immediately. I was quite reserved this year on purchases, but managed to get in a lot more game demos than usual, which is a fantastic (and more wallet friendly) balance that I will be striving to repeat next year as well! Already can't wait!

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