UK Games Expo 2022 – Show Report
As I write this I sit here with sore feet, aching legs, and a hoarse throat. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.
Don’t worry, I’m not suddenly a masochist, it’s just the fallout after a wonderful trip away to the UK Games Expo. If you’re wondering what the UKGE is, it’s a huge show at the NEC in Birmingham, UK, devoted to tabletop games of all kinds. Set over three days and three huge halls, it’s something you have to experience for yourself, but I’ll do my best to let you know how it was from my point of view.
Thursday – travel and the Press Preview
Armed with too many games, I set off on the 4.5 hour drive on Thursday morning, making a small detour in Devon to pick up my friend, and the man behind Gaming Rules!, Paul Grogan. As good as Spotify and Audible are, there’s no substitute for games conversation, so the remaining hours flew by, and I found myself at my base of operations, the Premier Inn on-site.
Forewarned is forearmed, so this year I made sure I have comfy shoes, plenty of spare clothes, and painkillers! If you’re like me and want to see and do everything, be prepared to put in a lot of miles on your feet. My phone reckons I clocked up over 38,000 steps over the two days total I spent on the show floor. My feet think it was twice that, and the hotel shower got used a lot. The NEC is huge.
On the Thursday evening before each UKGE, they put on a Press Preview event, where media folks like yours truly can meet the exhibitors and get a sneak peek at what’s going to be on show. It was much busier than last year’s, understandably, and it was great to catch up with old friends, and meet some I’ve never met before. I chatted to Ayden on the Dranda Games table and had a look at their two new games – Isle of Trains and Pioneer Rails. Both look great, and I’ll have a preview written for the former, soon.
It was great to meet Tom of Trolls ‘n’ Rerolls, the folks behind Amulet of Thrayax, Andy of Savania Games, who made a storming success of his game Cosmic Voyage, Chris from Unfringed who created Zuuli, and the guys behind The Old King’s Crown, which I look forward to covering later in the year. I saw so many interesting new games, talked to loads of people, and then sat down to play some games with my friends from the Gaming Rules! community, including the excellent Gutenberg (review coming soon).
Friday – many meetings, many miles
Friday is the first day that the UKGE is open to the public, so after making the most of the Premier Inn buffet breakfast (one of my favourite things) I took a wander down to the halls and was greeted by a sea of fellow games enthusiasts. The whole of the concourse around halls 1, 2, and 3 were absolutely heaving with people. It’s safe to say people were ready for a proper convention.
Friday consisted of a lot of meetings. Many of the publishers exhibiting at the show send out emails to the registered Press, inviting them to book meetings. I did exactly that, and spent the majority of the day pinging around the halls like a ball bearing in a Pachinko machine, meeting people from different publishers. The highlights for me were:
- Floodgate Games. I had a great chat with Ian, and we talked a lot about their recent hit, Decorum, which looks great. Co-op, hidden information house decorating.
- Asmodee. I was lucky enough to grab some time with Asmodee’s PR company, where we chatted about all things board game in the UK, and got introduced to a series of family games from a new designer. More on that in the not-too-distant future.
- Portal Games. I took the monorail out to a hotel near the airport to meet with Joanna from Portal, who, on seeing how hot and tired I was, bought me a pint! Thanks Joanna! We spent an hour playing Eleven, their new mixture of football manager and mid-heavy euro. I really liked this one, I hope I get a chance to share a review soon.
- Board&Dice. Board&Dice are one of my favourite publishers, so it was so lovely to finally meet Ola in person, after talking by email for so long. I took a look at two new games, Terracotta Army, and Power Core: Call of Cthulhu. I’ve not got too much to say about them yet, other than Terracotta Army looks very at home in the same stable as the T-series of games like Tawantinsuyu, and that Power Core will almost certainly be a hit with duelling card game fans,
- Lucky Duck Games. I’ve chatted to Bree from Lucky Duck plenty in the past, so meeting face-to-face was great. We had a look at their upcoming Sherlock game, which ties in with the BBC series. I was really pleased to see that they’re also now selling the X-Trayz board game organisers, from GameTrayz. GameTrayz make seriously good inserts for games like PARKS and Euphoria, and these little holders are just as good.
Finally, I sat down and played a demo game of Old London Bridge, from Queen Games. I hope to be able to review this one before too long, because it fills a nice niche. It’s fast enough and easy enough to learn to be considered ‘filler’, but it’s got so much more game in it than most fillers. I really enjoyed it.
I was really pleased to bump into another Andy too, this time from Cloudrunner Games, the studio behind Book Of Skulls – Slayers Of Eragoth, a game I recently previewed. We had a good chat and he bought me another beer! You might be noticing a trend here…
After that, the evening was mine. I found some friends and sat down with games like Long Shot: The Dice Game, Yogi, Moonrakers, and then a really good game of Iki too. The siren’s call of sleep was too strong though, so I sloped off back to the hotel to let my aching feet rest, and have a hot shower to wash the day’s grime away.
Saturday – catching-up, spending money, heading home
I wanted to get home by Saturday night, so as to have a day of normality at home before getting back to work on Monday. On Saturday morning I headed for my last two meetings of the show. The first was with Simon at Dranda Games. We talked more about the design of their two new train games (mentioned above), and both are honestly looking great. Both Kickstarters will launch before the year is out.
After that, I headed over to the CGE stand to meet with Eleni. As well as content creation for CGE, she’s also the face of Cardboard Rhino, a great YouTube channel that you ought to check out. We talked about lots of things, and she showed me Starship Captains, a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi game that owes a lot to Star Trek. I think it’s going to be a big hit. You heard it here first.
Then there was just time left to spend the rest of my spending money, and catch up with a few people I hadn’t been able to. It’s always great to see Ellie from The Dark Imp, and while I sat and chatted to her in the Playtest Zone, I was able to say hello to one of my favourite designers, Matt Dunstan. He has a hand in so many games at the moment, it’s impossible to ignore his contribution. If you want to see what I mean, head to the home of Postmark Games and spend a couple of quid on their game, Voyages. A cracking print-at-home, roll-and-write that he and Rory Muldoon created.
Finally, it was time for a last coffee with friends, before hitting the road for the four-and-a-half hour drive home.
I’m home now, and already missing being at the convention. Spending three days on a constant high of being surrounded by board game love, leads to a serious comedown. Is it busy? Yes. Is it tiring? Very. Is it expensive? Probably, depending on where you stay and how much you buy. The most important question, however, should be “Is it worth it?”, and the answer is a resounding yes.
People from every demographic you can imagine are everywhere. It doesn’t matter what your gender, ability, age, race, religion is – everyone is welcome and included. Everywhere you looked, people were smiling and laughing, and just enjoying being back around people with the same interests. I saw older people catching up after years apart, families with very young children playing together, and everything in-between. It was wonderful.
It is busy, it is noisy, and it is overwhelming if you’ve never been to anything like it. But for those willing to step outside of their comfort zone, the rewards can be enormous. I’ve read loads of posts from people who attended for one day as a test, who are adamant they want to go back for the full three days. Universally it seems, people felt happy, welcomed, supported where needed, and safe.
The next UK Games Expo is from Friday 2nd June until Sunday 4th June 2023. I hope I’ll see you there.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to meet me and talk to me. I want to thank the designers and publishers I’ve worked with over the last couple of years, for their support, friendship, and kind words. It’s been a pleasure watching people come from prototype to successful final game, and having them tell you that you helped that happen, is very moving.
I especially want to thank Paul for his company on the drive, and the friends I was able to play and talk with. In no particular order, thank you Mark P, Bob, Jill, Peter, Leanne, Neil, Gavin, Hilmar, Mark C, and all the people I’ve undoubtedly forgotten (I’m really tired!).
This hobby, and the people in it, are fricking awesome.