Tabletop games only made it onto my radar a couple of years ago.
It started when my love of escape rooms encouraged me to back the Kickstarter campaign for Hack Forward in February 2020. A couple of months later, Pete and I found ourselves joining in with our first tabletop RPG (TTRPG) over on The Lawful Geek’s Twitch channel and we’re still playing every Thursday.
Board games were added to the list when we went to visit friends one day and got talking about what we’d been up to during the lockdowns. They mentioned they’d picked up T.I.M.E Stories after being introduced to it by someone else and it sounded like just the kind of thing we’d enjoy: a ‘decksploration’ in which players take on the role of Temporal Agents sent to different ages to fulfil secret missions.
Although we’ve now tried escape-rooms-in-boxes, a TTRPG and a couple of board games, we’re still new to the tabletop world; and we remain more likely to reach for the controller than anything else when it comes to entertainment. But that doesn’t mean we’re unwilling to expand our horizons. Recent experiences have shown us there’s a whole other world of narrative fun out there, and it’s one which doesn’t necessarily involve sitting in front of a screen.
After our spontaneous treasure hunt around London last Friday, we decided to continue the adventure and booked tickets to the UK Games Expo at the NEC in Birmingham for the following day. We’d never been to the event before and so weren’t sure what to expect from it, but the idea of a road-trip and trying something new was appealing. What did we find there, what did we bring back with and would we go again? Read on to find out.
One of the things which frustrates me about large events such as last month’s MCM Comic Con is how they can appear to first-timers. There’s always a lack of signage so it’s never entirely clear where to go, and the huge crowd rushing to get into the venue can make the experience overwhelming. That’s not the case with the UK Games Expo though. Every single person we spoke to was so helpful and friendly, and there was specific information for new attendees. Well done to the organisers for putting thought into this.
There was a lovely atmosphere around the NEC both outside and inside the halls. Pete commented that it almost reminded him of Rezzed (may its soul rest in peace), where everyone used to feel a buzz about being within a crowd who were all there to celebrate the same thing. Without any stands blaring loud music, annoying promotions staff trying to grab everyone’s attention and kids pushing you aside for any available seats, we were free to casually wander around the venue and check stuff out at our leisure.
We thought we’d only be at the event for a couple of hours when we set out on the road on Saturday morning. We didn’t expect to end up spending the entire afternoon there and not want to leave when the scheduled time rolled around. There was so much to see across the three halls, and most of our hours were filled with simply browsing through merchandise and talking to the stand owners. We could easily have gone back for a second day and were surprised by how much we’d enjoyed ourselves.
Speaking of merch, we brought quite a few items back with us. Chronicles of Crime by Lucky Duck Games, The Night Cage by Smirk & Dagger and Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game by Portal Games have increased our collection. I also grabbed another strange package from The Mystery Agency along with a Thames & Kosmos’ EXIT The Game jigsaw puzzle. Pete picked up Night Quest by the Night Quest team, an amusing (and slightly dangerous) drinking game, along with a special die which looks like a certain cat.
The biggest mistake we made was not setting aside enough time for the event. As mentioned above, we got the impression we could have very easily spent more than one day at the UK Games Expo and didn’t want to leave when the time came. Because we’d only planned to be in Birmingham for the afternoon and spent most of the hours browsing the stands, we didn’t have the opportunity to actually play anything and there were several games we’d have liked to have found out more about.
Saying that though, I’m not sure we’d have been able to demo anything even if we’d had more time at the NEC. It was far busier than we expected it to be – which wasn’t entirely a bad thing because the number of people added to the atmosphere, but it looked difficult to get a seat at the tables because of the event’s popularity. Where we’re so new to tabletop games, we’d have appreciated a guided overview of some of the higher-priced ones before spending our money on something we might not enjoy.
Something else to factor in is the cost. Our standard tickets were £18 each and we felt this was very reasonable; but the cost of the entire trip can be expensive, even more so if you plan to go for a longer period. The hotels around the venue have increased in price massively over the past several years along with trains to Birmingham, so it’s something to consider if you’re thinking of a visit next year. I guess this is no different from other expos though and I said something similar about the MCM Comic Con.
This section has been tough to write because there’s really nothing truly negative that I can say about our experience at the UK Games Expo. Most of the shortcomings were caused by our lack of knowledge of tabletop gaming or because we’d never been to the event before. Both the dedicated staff on hand and other attendees were very friendly and more than happy to help whenever we had questions, so we didn’t feel out of place and there was no awkwardness which came from being first-timers.
I think it’s safe to say that Pete and I will be going back to Birmingham in June 2023. Although we’d love to be there for more than an afternoon next time, it might be difficult to justify the high cost of a hotel and travel so it will probably be just another quick trip. But at least we’re more clued up now and know what to expect of the UK Games Expo, so we can arrive earlier and plan our day better to make the most of it. We might even get the chance to try some of the games on display.
The best thing about the event was that it opened our eyes even further to different gaming experiences. While video games are likely to always be our go-to form of entertainment, we now feel open to playing board games more regularly – and in fact, that’s just what we spent the following day doing. We’ve got plenty of new stuff to play along with some older escape-rooms-in-boxes that haven’t been opened yet, so there may be some reviews coming over the next month or so.
Did you make it to the UK Games Expo last weekend? If you have any recommendations for narrative and cooperative board games that are worth checking out, I’d love to hear them.