UK Games Expo 2021 Round-up

The last weekend of July 2021 saw the rescheduled UK Games Expo roll into the NEC in Birmingham. This was my first trip to the Expo, and despite the anxiety of attending a major public event during the middle of a big spike of Covid-19 cases, I had a great time.

Safety first

Before I get into the games, I wanted to address the biggest question most people had about the event – how safe did it feel? In short, I felt very safe for the vast majority of the time. You had to present low-risk evidence to even get into the building, and I’m happy to say that over 99% of the people I saw were wearing face coverings while on the main show floor.

The demo areas were big and open for the most part, and it was a smart decision to put the big, sponsored demo areas in the middle of the floor, with stands around them. It stopped those areas feeling crowded at all. The only time you had to get close to others was around the more popular vendors, but at least that was personal choice.

catan stand
This huge and well-spaced Catan stand was the first thing you see when you walk in

The food and drink area had plenty of space, and the open gaming area was excellent. Long tables with nice mats from Game Toppers were set-up with gaps of at least two meters between them. Overall, I think the whole experience was about as safe as it could have been, and I’d be happy to do it again.

Thursday

I drove up on Thursday afternoon and got myself checked-in at the hotel, before heading down to collect my tickets and press pass. As always with the NEC, there’s a lot of walking involved, but it was good to stretch my legs after a long time in the car. Thursday evening was the press preview, which was a relatively small event for the publishers and distributors to get to talk to the media.

It was great to talk to people I’d spoken to online during the last year, including the guys at Dranda Games, who were showing off their follow-up to Solar Storm, Solar Sphere. From what I saw of the game, it’s gone straight onto my wishlist. I caught up with Paul Stapleton from Bedsit Games, and I’m really looking forward to trying Pauper’s Ladder and the new Moon Towers expansion.

I bumped into Bez of Stuff by Bez and had a nice chat with her, as well as trying out “A game about WEE WHIMSICAL CREATURES and trying to identify them after someone makes noises“, which was good fun. Escape Plan Games were showing off Hit The Silk and Stop the Train, both of which really tickled my fancy, social deduction and a lot of player interaction.

me and bez
Possibly the least flattering photo of me ever, with the lovely Bez

I had a good chat with James Naylor of Naylor Games, ahead of the launch of both Magnate: The First City, and the newly-announced (I think this is right…) Board Game: The Board Game Card Game. It looks like a great game of designing and making board games, played as a poker-style card game, with tongue firmly in cheek. Finally, I stumbled back to the hotel for a well-earned sleep.

Friday

The first day proper, and plenty of people milling around. Despite telling myself I’d pace myself with my spending money, I spotted Firestorm Cards had a stand right inside the door. I know they carry Eagle Gryphon Games stock, so asked if they had any with them, half-hoping they’d say no. Long story short, within ten minutes of the doors opening I’d bought On Mars

oltree
Still pre-release, but Oltréé is pretty, and great fun

On the show floor I stopped at Hatchette Games stand and tried out two really good new games. Trek 12 is a roll and write with some really clever choices to make, from Bruno Cathala, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for a copy. The game that impressed me most was one called Oltréé, designed in part by Antoine Bauza. It’s a really clever, co-op, narrative-driven game based on a French RPG.

trek 12
Trek 12 is a really clever, tricky little roll and write

Later in the day I played a really nice abstract game called Deckchairs on the Titanic by Silver Birch Games. It’s a cut-throat quick little game (although I played on the massive, over-sized version) of trying to get your deckchairs to certain spots, while your rivals try to do the same. It’s one I think will make a great gateway game, and one to look out for.

deckchairs on the titanic
The big, deluxe version of Deckchairs on the Titanic

Open gaming

On Friday evening I headed to the open gaming area and met up with a few folks I know from a Facebook group. We spent the rest of the night playing five hours of games, including a really tight game of Leder Games’ Fort, and an epic game of Tapestry with the Plans & Ploys expansion, from Stonemaier Games.

I really loved the open gaming area. We had so much space, and everywhere you looked there were groups of people enjoying every type of game you can think of. There was a lovely, if slightly subdued, atmosphere. It was perfect like that. Nobody was so nonchalant as to just pretend there’s no pandemic, but there was still a nice feeling of more normal, if not actually normal yet.

uk games expo open gaming area
The open gaming area was spacious and well-spaced

The feeling of being in such a big place, surrounded by people who share your hobby and passion, is absolutely fantastic.

Saturday

I already knew Saturday would be my shortest, and final day. After checking-out and saying goodbye to my hotel room (it’s a tradition now, I have no idea why), I headed down to spend the last of my cash, pick up a present for my son – Japanese snacks and a mug full of random dice – and to play another game.

I arranged to meet up with Ellie from The Dark Imp (I reviewed a load of their games not-so-long ago) to have an in-person catch-up and a game of Architects of the West Kingdom (review here). After a last lap of the hall and a few goodbyes to new friends, I headed to my car for the long drive home.

Summary

The 2021 UK Games Expo was great. Cautious where necessary, smaller than usual, but after the last 18 months, it was the perfect way to start getting back to something normal. The organisers put together a fantastic event, the exhibitors were enthusiastic and friendly, and the attendees obeyed the rules.

uk games expo billboard
See you next year, UK Games Expo

I’d like to say a special thank you to the horde of volunteers who help out on the demo tables, as they give up their time for free to help people play new games, and don’t have the luxury of just wandering around and enjoying the day.

I’ll be back next year for certain, I’ve already booked my hotel, and I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for a great weekend, UK Games Expo team.

My Expo in numbers

10.5 – hours spent driving the 520 total miles

45,000 – steps taken over the three days

21.5 – miles walked

5 – games bought

2 – hotel breakfasts destroyed

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