By cantorion, AKA Simon Morris
Well this is my first ever review of my first ever UK Games Expo so a double cherry popping!
As this was my first expo/convention in over 20 years of gaming, given that I’m currently 39 I sort of understood from listening to several podcasts (admittedly American ones) what to expect but was still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ‘stuff’ that was present as well as the number of people that attended.
However, I was prepared to a certain extent as I had made sure to pre-book my games, have an itinerary at hand and memorise the locations of each game or seminar I was going to be attending. I arrived on the Thursday afternoon at my pre-booked hotel and immediately after checking in and dumping my small case in my room I made sure I scouted out the area around the expo centre. I did this in order to get to know the area and what it had to offer in the way of food and cash withdrawal in case I needed to go above my pre-allocated spending budget.
My next step was to visit the Clarendon Suites hotel and get a feel for its layout so I wouldn’t be wandering too aimlessly on the day and so mentally noted toilets, bar, upcoming game rooms, bar, demo halls, bar etc. Thankfully Pat from the expo team was present on site and so I was able to pick up my pre-booked tickets a day early and have a chat with him regarding the expo (remember, I’ve never been here before). He revealed that not only where they moving the venue (something I’d heard) but that they had an increase in pre-booked tickets from 600 in 2011 to 800 for the 2012 show and were expecting several thousand through the doors on the day.
With my Thursday wandering out of the way I looked forward to the gaming on the Friday given that I was signed into 3 sessions; 10am, 3pm & 8pm so a full day of gaming, heaven given I run 1 game at home and currently play in 0 games. However, I’ve over 20 years of experience in playing RPG’s and tried numerous systems so wanted to make sure that the expo was all about systems I’d never tried before.
The first of my 3 games was Sleeper: Orphans of the Cold War (and so far, to me the hit of the expo) by Ben and Tony of deathspiral.co.uk. Although more of a tactical squad combat game it had enough leeway as an RPG to capture my interest, plus the setting background of elite military supersoldiers from the cold war period placed in suspended animation and now awakened in a world they no longer recognise really captured my imagination.
Each of the pre-generated characters had a unique feeling ranging from the teleporting Russian sniper to the fast healing British special branch officer to the NATO soldier with chain wrapped guts with each having unique combination of power usages depending on what if they were carrying out a free action or move action etc. Before I knew it, the 4 hours were close to up and the party had narrowly succeeded in defeating the enemy forces attempting to recover the cold war tech artefact, but the highlight of the game was the teleporting sniper using his power to teleport the pin out of an enemy’s grenade. The resultant look of surprise by Tony can only be assumed to be less horrified than the poor mercenary who was blown up by the resultant blast.
I can only repeat my earlier statement, ‘Sleepers’ is an excellent game but the only downside being that the rulebook is not out till next year which was a shame as I was ready to shell out some cash then and there to own the rulebook, but it was definitely the game I’ll remember longest. In fact each game I attended over the weekend resulted in me praising the game to all who would listen. (I only hope tony and Ben read this and remember me when I come to make an order).
The remainder of my Friday games consisted of an adequate Roman era CoC game and a Dnd 4th Ed. game that although interesting didn’t fire me up as Sleeper had done and as such, I will not bore you with the details.
Saturday was the real surprise; I knew it was going to be busy thanks to the talk with Pat but I was unprepared for what lay in front of me. Getting to the Clarendon at 9.15am the queue was already around the building and beginning to zig-zag its way through the car park at the hotels rear. With a heavy heart and thinking I was going to spend at least an hour queuing I joined the back of the queue. However, my fears were unfounded as a member of the expo’s staff made a tour collecting the Saturday stubs from the ticket and within 5 minutes, voila, I was in the building and staring at wonder at the sheer number of sellers and ‘stuff’ that was on display. The first 20 minutes I spent in a daze just wandering around the building seeing what a difference had come over the place since my quick scout on Thursday with stands erected, Star Wars droids and Daleks on display, the Tardis standing ready at the base of the steps to the 1st floor and a rather attractive Amy Pond lookalike wandering around.
As a note, although there were maps on the ground floor, there was no other means to locate the rooms where seminars or games were hosted; hopefully this will be addressed at next year’s event to make navigation around the building and to areas of interest somewhat easier.
As 10am neared I made my way to the seminar room for the morning’s seminars with a clear idea of my goals for the morning only to be told that the first of the seminars ‘Meet the UK Podcasters’ was now on at 10.30am and the room was in use by the bring and buy folk. After a small argument I was forced to return later and walked in around 10.20am to see a seminar room with only a handful of people in and no members of the public other than myself present for around 10 minutes or so. I’m hoping that the seminars at next years event are better organised and more clearly marked.
With a full morning of seminars based around podcasting, publishing and designing games I spent the next several hours sat with others who shared a similar interest and gathered ideas I’d not addressed in my own attempts to get an RPG system published so overall the seminars were, from my point of view a great success.
With my next seminar in the afternoon I took some time to wander around the booths to peruse the items for sale, and given I had set myself a strict budget for the weekend picked out the items that I wanted to purchase. As a wandered around the booths it was often difficult to move given the sheer numbers of people present, especially when you take into the account the number of people who were also sitting down at the numerous tables not only chatting but also playing games they had bought but also games that they were being given tasters off.
An added bonus to this years event was the presence of the ‘Expo Diplomats’ who’s task it was to answer questions and guide attendees to areas that may have been of interest to them based on their requests. Although I had already planned my weekend events ahead of time I think this was an excellent idea and could lead to attendees trying something they may have an interest in but never actually tried before.
Given the sheer size of the Expo and the number of events that were going on my only regret is not actually signing up to some of the play tests or board games that were arranged for the Saturday, but next year I’ll be sure to mix it up a little to add some spice to my RPG interests, heck you may even see me running a game or 3.
In parting, I can say as my first experience of any kind of Expo or gaming convention the UK Games Expo was excellent, especially given the £18 cost of the extended ticket allowed me a full 3 days of what can only be described as great fun. Hopefully some of the people who I met this year will be there next year where whole new memories can be forged and added to my collection.