The UK Games Expo (UKGE) is arguably the biggest highlight of the UK tabletop gaming calendar. Board game enthusiasts along with board game designers, publishers and retailers transcend on the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham for 3 epic days of gaming. Last year was my first time at the expo, where I attended Saturday and Sunday, and I loved every minute of it! Now, with UKGE 2018 fast approaching, I want to share 8 lessons that I learnt from UKGE 2017 – and how I’ll be getting the most out of this year!
1) Prepare for the crowds
One of the first things I realised at last year’s UKGE was that I’m not alone; in fact I’m part of a massive community of board gamers. Joining the growing streams of people from the car park to the trade halls made this immediately obvious. I was amazed by the number of other people that were interested in this hobby and attending the UKGE! A whopping 16000 people attend the expo last year, some of whom (like myself) visited on multiple days. Before attending UKGE, the majority of my gaming was in my home (or a friend’s home), with my wife or a very small group of friends – so the size of the community was a massive surprise to me.
It was great being surrounded by so many people with the same interest… But this meant being surrounded by so many people with the same interests. One word: crowds. If, like me, you find prolonged exposure to crowds can wear you down, you might find the trade halls a bit hectic on the Saturday (the busiest day). As I’m going for the whole 3 days this year, I’ll be taking advantage of the less busy Friday and Sunday to explore the trade halls and check out the open gaming, events and seminars on the Saturday to avoid the crush. Going to UKGE for the less busy days may be a good thing to consider if you also find crowds take their toll on you.
2) Plan ahead – don’t just roll with it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you meticulously plan every second of your day. But with so many different things going on it’s helpful to have an idea of what you want to get out of UKGE. What’s important to you? Is there a new game coming out that you’re hoping to demo? Or a seminar about board game design that’s piqued your interest? Or are you hoping to sniff out a second hand bargain at the ‘Bring and Buy’?
Last year, I didn’t prepare at all. I got around the majority of the exhibitors that I’d wanted to see and demoed a number of new games I’d wanted to try, like Sub Terra (published by ITB Games) and Yamatai (published by Days of Wonder). But there were a number of games I didn’t get a chance to try because I overlooked them on the day; most notably Pocket Mars (published by Board & Dice), The Lost Expedition (published by Osprey Games), and Zombies Run! The Board Game (based on the Running App by Six to Start). Although I had a great time, there were too many periods where I wandered aimlessly, looking for the next game to try or stall to look at.
This year I’m planning in advance, putting together a hit-list so I know where I want to go, what games I want to demo and which exhibitors I want to visit. I’ve already started my spreadsheet!
3) Don’t judge a game by its demo!
As mentioned above, last year I was able to demo a couple of the biggest games at UKGE. In fact, I got to demo Sub Terra (ITB games), which was awarded 2017s UKGE ‘Best Euro Game’. Our gaming friends picked it up right there. Since then, we’ve played Sub Terra multiple times and I think it’s a top game… but if I was completely honest, I wasn’t blown away with it whilst demoing it at the UKGE 2017.
Until visiting last year’s UKGE I hadn’t considered that when you demo a game you tend to play an abridged version of the full game. Stripped back, shorter in length and with a few elements removed. After playing the demo of Sub Terra, I felt I wanted more from the game. This is because ITB games presented an incomplete version. Don’t get me wrong though, demos aren’t pointless they do allow you to get an idea of what the game entails. I remember picking up on a really awesome aspect of Sub Terra. Although it’s cooperative, part way through the game you have to balance your own needs, with the needs of the group… which I thought introduced an interesting internal conflict to the game. But it wasn’t enough to entirely win me over.
This year I’ll be asking more questions about the games I demo and getting to the bottom of what the full game has to offer. I won’t just rely on the demo alone!
4) There’s more beyond the trade halls.
My time at the UKGE last year was dominated by exploring the trade hall and ‘Bring and Buy’ – but I did manage a quick gaming session in the open gaming area, and even joined friends to watch a cosplay parade!
There’s so much going on at the UKGE – it’s not just trying buying and learning about new board games. It also offers an opportunity for you to discover something new you didn’t even know existed. I really regret not taking the time last year to go to an event or seminar. This year I hope to attend and be entertained by the ‘The Dark Room – Jason Roberts and broaden my horizons by catching the board game accessibility talk delivered by Dr Michael Heron and Pauline Belford from ‘Meeples Like Us’. Don’t forget to explore the wider UKGE to see what else in going on!
5) Visit the ‘bring and buy’ each day.
One of my favourite parts of the UKGE last was the ‘Bring and Buy’an area in the expo where visitors can buy second hand games. I was really impressed with the ‘Bring and Buy’ last year. I grabbed some brilliant games at some bargain prices. There are masses of second-hand games on offer, and always a deal to be had. But be warned! Not everything in the ‘Bring and Buy’ is a good deal and there are some sellers who try to charge unrealistic prices for their second hand wares – sometimes selling for higher than the game was being sold new! Most of these are easy to spot when you find the price tag and exclaim “how much?!”, but if you’re unsure it’s well worth doing a quick Google to compare the price. Also, some of my best finds at the ‘Bring and Buy’ were games I’d never heard of before. If there was anything that looked interesting, I did a quick check to see how it rated on Board Game Geek to help me decide if the game was a potential buy.
Apparently my friends and I love hunting down a bargain because we were in the ‘Bring and Buy’ for ages, systematically looking through the games leaving no box leftout. Being in the ‘Bring and Buy’ so long meant that I was able to witness the turnover of people attending – new visitors on new days means more games! Or maybe they couldn’t get them out all at once? … It doesn’t really matter the important thing is that there were new games being stocked so fresh deals to find. It’s probably worth popping in more than once if you’re there all weekend – I know I’ll be checking it out each day!
6) Prepare your games for the ‘bring and buy’ or risk losing components!
The ‘Bring and Buy’ may be run by the UKGE but it’s stocked by visitors to the expo like you and me. Visitors to the UKGE can bring games that they don’t want any more to sell at the Expo. So if you are looking at your shelves and there are loads that you never play taking up your valuable space then why not consider bringing them to the expo. Then you will have more money to buy more games! (After all you will have just freed up some space.)
Naturally, before people buy second-hand games, they want to check that everything is in the box before they commit to the purchase. Most visitors will take care with the games and components, but if games aren’t packed away carefully components could escape. Last year I saw a couple of games where the box had opened up over the sale area – this was happening even when games were just being moved because the lids weren’t secure. Obviously these games could instantly lose their value if key components were missing!
I’m planning to take a number of games to ‘Bring and Buy’ at the UK Games Expo this year. To try and avoid the games falling apart and losing components, I’ll be bagging all the loose components and wrapping an elastic band around the box (many games did this last year and these were the ones that remained intact).
If you are planning to sell games at the ‘Bring and Buy’ don’t forget to pre-register them beforehand.
7) Save your money and stay a little further away!
After last year’s event still full of the adrenaline and excitement I decided to have a look at the nearby hotel options for the UKGE this year. I was gobsmacked by the extortionate prices to stay at the hotels nearby the NEC like the Hilton which was over £200 per night, and realised that we had made the right choice in staying further out around £30 per night.
Staying a little further out and driving in was far more inexpensive and effective – the roads and parking facilities at the NEC are brilliant (and reasonably priced – £6 per day), and there wasn’t any major traffic when we arrived at the Expo each morning. We enjoyed everything UKGE had to offer without paying the eye-watering prices to stay within walking distance. I definitely recommend this approach, especially if you’re driving – if you’re traveling to Birmingham by train there are still cheaper options, but you’re restricted to hotels near suitable transport.
After all… the less money you spend on your accommodation the more you can spend on GAMES!
8) Having fun is exhausting
Last year I attended UKGE for 2 days (Saturday and Sunday). When I left for home on the Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted; I hadn’t realised how tiring a weekend at the expo would leave me as tired.
Setting off from Cardiff at 6am Saturday to get to UKGE for opening time probably wasn’t the best idea by the end of the first day we were exhausted and headed straight to our hotel as soon as the trade halls closed. We didn’t take the opportunity use open gaming areas or gaming library. Sunday was more of the same, and still carrying over exhaustion from the day before. By the end of the weekend, I was spent. My friends were wise enough to take the following Monday off work to recover – I wasn’t!
This year I will be taking it easier and have booked our hotel room from Thursday onwards – so no early morning drive up this year! Going with a bit more of a plan on what I want to do will hopefully help with the headspace – meaning more energy to play more games! I’ve also booked the Monday off work to properly recover (although, let’s be honest, I’ll be playing the games I picked up at UKGE!).
My first convention experience was brilliant and I learnt so much. Hopefully you might find it useful as well! Have you got any ‘Top Tips’ that I haven’t mentioned? If so, share them in the comments I’d be interested to read them!
Disclosure – I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted a press pass for the UK Games Expo 2018. My views, opinions and discussions about the UK Games Expo 2017, or the UK Games Expo 2018 are my honest opinions, and not effected by this.