Last weekend saw the UK Games Expo take place at Birmingham’s NEC and with over 16,000 people attending it is now the 3rd largest tabletop games convention in the world! But how was it? Well, we went up on the Saturday and, after some fannying around because our online tickets weren’t actually booked or paid for (which seems to have happened to a few people), we went in. And the first thing to grab our eye in hall 1 was this!An impressive display from Hawk Wargames, with tons of detail and lighting effects. Every time we walked past we noticed something new. And rumour has it that it might be the last outing for this beast.
Mere minutes after deciding which direction we wanted to walk around to make sure we didn’t miss anything, I got drawn into some play-testing. Pirat (formally known as Ratbag and possibly soon to be known as Ratbag again) is a game that makes use of your old beer bottle caps. Taking turns to draw bottle caps randomly from a bag, the aim is to fill your grid with them, but you cannot have any duplicates in a horizontal or vertical row (think Sudoku). There are also special rat caps designed by the creators that have allow you to steal caps, draw multiple tops or make you miss turns, and with all of these there is always the risk that you will end up shooting yourself in the foot. By the time the last row was being filled, the game became a frantic mix of strategy and luck. A fun, easy to play game, and if you like beer you’ll also have fun collecting your game pieces.
As fans of both NFL and Blood Bowl, the next game to catch our eye was 4th Quarter Football. Another game in development, there aren’t any orcs here, instead it strives to recreate American Football as a board game. We only watched one down, but the level of strategy and planning certainly seems authentic and the action sees the offence begging their move before the defence reacts and then the offence finishes their turn. An interesting mechanic that’s trying to capture the snap decisions of the real thing. The down we watched was very involved and we didn’t stick around for the whole game because it might take as long as the real thing! But with teams from various eras that are historically accurate both in terms of visuals and how they play, this could be the game a big NFL and tabletop fan is looking for.
Next up, a game I had my eye on long before we got to the Expo, and we just happened to walk past as they were looking for people to play (the planets must have aligned). Yes it’s the upcoming Batman board-game by Monolith. If you’ve ever played one of their previous game, Conan, it is kind of similar. But we haven’t played that, so the rules took some explaining and we continuously asked questions. Our scenario pitted Batman, Catwoman and the Red Hood against Bane and his henchmen, who were planting bombs under the GCPD headquarters. We had 6 turns to defuse, and boy did we mess that up. Batman took a lot of shotguns in the face, and after picking himself up got over-run by dogs. Catwoman (played by me) managed to sneak into a room with a bomb, but miserably failed to defuse it despite all of the dice and the stats being in her favour. Bane didn’t even get involved against the heroes, instead leaving his thugs to it. It would’ve been even worse if Red Hood hadn’t wiped out about 20 thugs with his mini-gun, something Batman can’t have been happy about. We spent over an hour playing and, despite our piss poor tactics, thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be pledging once it launches on Kickstarter later in the year.
Finally, another game we had a lot of fun playing – Ice Cool by Brain Games. Definitely aimed at the family side of board-gaming, Ice Cool sees you flicking penguins around a penguin school, trying to get through doorways and collect fish whilst avoiding the hall monitor (yes you read that right). There is certainly a technique to successfully getting your penguin around the cardboard structure, and as we were playing with one of the creators he showed us some of his master flicking techniques (ladies…). Despite being absolutely terrible at this myself, there were plenty of laughs to be had and it would definitely be a great game for kids. And it all nests neatly back into the box.
As well as the trade hall, there was the competitive playing hall. We’re novice X-Wing players, so wanted to watch some of the experts play, but there was plenty of other games in the hall, from Pokemon to various versions of Legendary to loads of other Fantasy Flight Star Wars games. Maybe next we’ll be writing up a recap of our glorious X-Wing victories, but we need to get some practice in first.
With some games played and lots of window shopping done, the day flew by it was closing time before we knew it. I left with a new X-Wing ship I’ve been after for a while and found at a reasonable price, and a copy of wrestling miniatures game RumbleSlam by TT Games (with an expo exclusive American Bad-Ass era Undertaker homage figure, if that makes any sense to you). So keep an eye out for some badly painted wrestling miniatures coming soon! And one good thing about the Expo being in Birmingham when we live in London? It gave us a few hours of play-testing time for our wrestling based card game MuscleMania! Who knows, maybe next year we’ll be launching it at the world’s 3rd largest tabletop games convention.