UK-Games-Expo-300x336[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

The UK Games Expo has been a different experience than it was last year. Very different.

Before I jump into telling you how wonderful it’s been (it has), let me tell you in a couple of sentences what my history with the tradeshow/convention has been. I was meant to be there for the first time two years ago, but I had to spend a few months living in Chicago – great city, by the way – and couldn’t make it. Last year I knew I was going to do some interviews thanks to the UK Gaming Media Network and Chris Bowler kind invitation and thus I spent a great chunk of the weekend interviewing great guys with great games. And some not-so-great ones too. I had a blast!

This year I was approached by Richard Denning to organise the panels. Richard, together with Tony Hyams, is the Expo Director – and a bloody nice guy – and asked me if I’d organise the panels for the seminars since I helped last year a bit.

“Sure thing!” – I said, and got on with it. So my head started to think and Richard introduced me to a few people who also wanted to help with the panels. Thanks goodness for that. I am much better when I work in teams. We got to work.

And then the UK Games Expo arrived. WOW!

For starters the venue this year was changed. We were located at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, which is pretty much adjacent to Birmingham NEC and the Airport. Easy to get to by train and plane. The hotel is pretty huge and it was able to accommodate the thousands of people the Expo saw last year. And the extra thousands that have attended this year. It was pretty amazing!

Quite frankly, I think the staff at the hotel didn’t know what hit them. As much as I’m sure they’re used to dealing with trade shows, I had the feeling they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Or how much of it. The grumpy nature of the receptionist who couldn’t tell me what was happening the following day wasn’t very encouraging (that guy needs training!) but the rest of the staff were truly superb.

Alas the prices of drinks and food at the bar was far from superb. There is a Costa in the lobby and they charged over £5 for a large Latte. Nearly £3 for 1/2 pint of soda… ouch! After that I didn’t even look at the price of the food. Thank goodness it wasn’t necessary. There was a room with some catering on the premises and the prices were very reasonable. The selection of food was sufficient, but since the NEC is round the corner and they do have a good selection of restaurants, one was never too far from a decent meal and a break.

The two big rooms with the traders were pretty excellent, though a little bit crammed. There were a lot of very small stands and a lot of rather big ones too. The issue with small stands is that, if people stop by to take a look at the games, it can clog a corridor rather quickly. Thank goodness the corridors were mostly very wide, so the problems were minimised. Still, a more heterogeneous distribution of stands will go a long way to solve the problem and would allow the small people to be closer to the big people, which is very nice!

Considering this is the first year at the hotel, it was done as well as you could possibly expect. Maybe wasn’t perfect, but it came pretty darned close!

Notable presences this year were Mayfair Games, Esdevium, Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games and Fantasy Flight Games. All of them with prominent stands and demoing their games. Esdevium had a horde of demoers who seemed to be impossible to wear out. No matter what time of day you were there, they were smiling, playing and looking happy. After the show, they were still smiling and looking happy. And playing. A truly terrific bunch!

The selection of traders was top-notch. Retailes, indie games developers, online retailers, hobbyists, big companies, small companies, incipient companies… Anyone who is anyone was there. Those who weren’t… well… they better sharpen up a bit. UK Games Expo is not becoming just the place for gamers to meet retailers, but for retailers to meet distributors and designers and network in a professional environment.

It is very difficult for me to be unbiased about the seminars, to be honest. I organised a few of them and hosted them so I’ll try to stick to the facts. They went on time. Not one slipped from its slot to the next hour and, overall, they started very much on time. I think in a couple of occasions they were delayed 3 to 5 minutes while we backed up the memory cards from our video cameras. We managed to record more than 200gb of video that will hit the YouTube channel as soon as possible. No mean feat and all thanks to Martin Reed, my husband, who was sitting and manning the cameras like a champion.

The selection of panels was, I think, pretty decent. From the purely entertainment panels, like the Dr Who actors John Levine and Simon Fisher-Becker, to the purely informative about how to write your own RPG or getting advice on Kickstarter projects, they were all very well attended and the public seemed to have a very good time. I must also thank Michael Fox for his help in hosting some of the panels.

Having the likes of Jay Little – designer of Warhammer Fantasy RPG 3rd ed, X-Wing, the Star Wars RPG and many others – was a true treat. I still have to figure out how I managed to stay calm and not squeal like a crazed fan!

Andrew Hackard – Steve Jackson Games’ Munchkin Tzar (no, really. He is), Larry Roznai from Mayfair Games, Mark Wotton from AEG, Dom McDowel from Cubicle 7, gave a truly terrific insight of what it is to be one of the big companies leading the market. I swear, Larry Roznai is one of the coolest guys on the planet!

Having Mark Rein-Hagen and C.A. Suleiman at the table with Cat Tobin and Angus Abranson was another highlight. The practical seminar on how to go about writing your own RPG was very well attended and the feedback has been truly great. Again another that we’ll have in video asap.

Since Kickstarter is indeed here to stay and its presence in the UK is becoming more and more prominent, we had a number of people who’ve had Kickstarter experience and spoke to the audience of their experiences and advice for their own projects.

You know… it is really difficult to stop going on about the panels. You’ll be able to find out for yourselves when the videos start to be uploaded and I hope you’ll agree with me that they were pretty good.

We mustn’t forget the stellar work that Chris Bowler and Liz Mackie did carrying out interviews and demos of games. Those two worked tirelessly throughout the show and still managed to keep a happy face by the end of it all. What a team!

The tournaments were something to be seen. The buzz and atmosphere was seriously infectious. our very own Dr Mike Reddy went to the X-Wing championship just to spend a couple of hours and we lost him for most of the day. He had a *great* time.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I found the UK Games Expo exhilarating. I didn’t get enough time to talk to my friends Angus Abranson and Louise Maton, which forever make me weep. Only got a glimpse of what’s to come from Modiphius and didn’t manage to talk to Chris Birch even though I was desperate to spend some time with him. Loved my time with Back Spindle game’s brains David Brawshaw and Leo Boyd and got a crack at Luchador from Mark Rivera. Came tantalisingly close to seeing Krosmaster when Rory O’Connor joined us at a game of Luchador. Cubicle 7 told me some upcoming secret stuff that made my eyes wet with joy. Wotan Games looked like the embodiment of the gaming phoenix, surging from their ashes stronger and more beautiful than ever…

I could go on and on forever and not get tired.

There is one thing that makes UK Games Expo very special: the fact that people go there to play games first and buy games after. Even the games companies are there to play games first and sell games later. The convention is fun. Truly and genuinely fun. You can spend there the whole weekend playing games and not spend a penny (though I’d challenge you to try and restrain yourself) and you’ll be welcome in pretty much any room.

But also the level of professionalism thrown into the organisation is truly outstanding. Considering the short age of the show and that their main organisers are not events organisers by trade, they and the army of really wonderful volunteers do a job that plenty of professionals could learn a lot from.

For their tremendous effort, the opportunity to design and host the seminars and their passion, I can’t thank them enough for creating the best days in gaming in the UK.

Put the UK Games Expo in your calendars, friends!