It has arrived! The biggest event in the UK Tabletop calendar is finally upon us, and so myself and two friends (Luke & Simon) have trekked down for the entire weekend to see what the fuss is all about. I must confess that this is only my first time here, so this blog is a general guide to the event, viewing the chaos through a fresh, untainted set of eyes. I'll try to keep the puns to a minimum too.
Upon arriving, I didn't know how large the event was going to be. I'd heard rumours that this year it was going to be expanding to a new venue, and even Tom Vasel said they're expecting 8,000 people so my expectations were not vast, but lightly elevated. Think of it as being on tip toes. Getting to the NEC (which as far as I can see is a great location), we were greeted with a short, short line to collect tickets. Having been to Essen, this was something of a surprise. Look and learn Germany!
The hall itself was pretty big, and nicely packed with stalls. Not so much you have to squeeze yourself in to it or, worse, get bags smacking you round the head when you're just trying to play Knitwit, but not so little that it didn't feel like there was enough to do. But, and this is a big but (no laughing), it is certainly not on the same scale as Essen. Not yet anywho. With one hall, and the neighbouring hotel Hilton providing many other mini venues to stage recordings and open gaming, it still offers more than enough to fill a weekend. This is only its tenth year though, so I have no doubt we'll see the expo grow in the years to come.
Back to the games. We weren't lucky enough to score press passes (next year perhaps?) but there was still a lot to see. We took a quick, aimless gander around Hall 1 soaking it all in, before making our way to friend of C&G, Gavin Birnbaum (we interviewed him on this podcast). There I picked up two of his games, the first of which I believe is on sale for the first time ever which is called 'Carreau' and another never before seen 'Rally Cross'. Expect to see reviews of these games very soon!
Afterwards, we tried our hand at a new game by Mayfair Games called 'Costa Rica', a push your luck game about photographing animals while not getting bitten by mosquitoes. It has, as you might have guessed, Euro written all over it. You each have an explorer in six different groups, who start on each corner of the island, made up of hexagonal grids, and on your turn you lead a trek as far as you like, collecting sets of photographs on the way (the more photographs you get of each animal the more points you score) but the tiles disappear after you've visited so some other explorer groups can get stranded, which adds a little strategy to the decisions and all the while you're avoiding revealing mosquito threats. And trust me, as somebody who has visited said country, there are a very real threat... at least for everyone else. The little buggers don't want me it seems. Maybe it's the one gift I have. Anyway, I'm sure we'll have a little preview for it soon.
Next up we decided to head to a seminar called 'Is there anything new under the sun?' hosted by Eric Lang (designer of Blood Rage), Lewis Pulsipher (designer of Sea Kings, Britannia) and Christian Petersen (CEO of Fantasy Flight Games). It was an interesting discussion on the importance of innovation in games. The general consensus was that designers don't necessarily strive for innovation, instead they try to make a game that befits the general goal or purpose of the game and hope that it feels fresh in doing so. They touched on the trials of balancing nostalgia with innovation, and one poignant nugget of information was that with nostalgic memory, we are often in love with the idea of remembering what we love, without actually loving the thing we are fond of remembering, so when games designers take on licenses or remake old games, it is often about bringing a sense of today into a game from yesterday. Additionally, In terms of board gaming with apps, particularly as Eric designed the first tabletop game that requires the use of an app (XCOM: Enemy Unknown), he said that he expected it to get a backlash but then was surprised at the positive impact it had with the community, with Christian highlighting that it was in fact a financial success for them, so expect more in the future I guess. Definitely a neat highlight that I'm glad I attended.
After that, we awaited our inevitable loss in the prize draw for the Pandemic: Reign Of Cthulhu, with fifteen lucky people being the first people to own this game... in the world! Crazy. Afterwards we snuck off to the Arden Suite in the Hilton to observe our enemies (I kid, I kid) from the Shut Up & Sit Down site, who were recording their live podcast. Those guys really do know how to do an entertaining recording, that's for sure, filling it with entertaining anecdotes and just generally giving refreshing opinions on the board games they had seen during their brief visit to the show thus far. Though, rather interestingly, they had only just discovered the delights of Treasure Hunter (which we covered in our video from Spiel 2015 which you can find here) and Colt Express which I have been telling Ben about forever (I promise I will shut up about it now).
And to finish off the evening, after satiating our hunger with festival food, we managed to get ourselves time to play expo favourite 'Two Rooms & A Boom' and while I love this game, do you know what I don't love? Being a vanilla character in ALL THREE GAMES! Granted, there should still be fun to be had but when you play this game once every few months, you do get your heart set on a role of some kind, to use and abuse it, but alas, that wasn't to happen for me this time. Regardless, it was still fun to grab so many strangers into the game, which happened the more games we played.
And that was it! End of day one, a lot seen, a lot more to see tomorrow, and lots of games to be played. More tomorrow!