Last weekend witnessed the seventh international tabletop day, an annual celebration of tabletop gaming. Thus, it was only proper to join tens of thousands people at the UK Games Expo (UKGE), the largest gaming event in the UK.
The first thing that would hit people when they enter was not the size of the UKGE, with it filling two halls and the Hilton, or the incalculable number of people, but the roar. This was not from the cheering crowds at one of the many sanctioned tournaments or the undulating rattle of rolling dice, but the air conditioning systems working flat out to keep the temperature at sub-tropical levels, rather than the blast furnace levels it could easily have been.
One thing that cannot be denied about the UKGE is that it has grown year on year since its inception in a single room of a Masonic Lodge twelve years ago. This time, it had not grown in size but scale, as there were countless events taking place throughout the weekend. The sheer diversity of these events was incredible, from designer talks and workshops through to live-action games and live performances. The highlight of these were Starship Bridge Simulator and The Dark Room, both of which were swiftly sold out.
Naturally, as one would expect at a tabletop gaming convention, there were thousands of games that attendees were able to join, from roleplaying games and board games through to wargames and collectible card games. There was literally something for everyone
However, it was the trading halls that took up the most space, filling two of the convention halls of the NEC. It was refreshing to see that traders were in the minority and the UKGE was instead dominated by creators and publishers, with many of the line developers, such as Matthew Dawkins – the “gentleman gamer”, who more than lives up to his moniker – on hand to discuss their latest games.
This is one (of many) reasons that makes the UKGE so popular, as attendees often get the chance to learn about and try new games, sometimes before they are available for general release. Onyx Path Publishing had the highly anticipated second edition of their Scion roleplaying game. SLA Industries by Nightfall Games was making a return. Grange Live Gaming were promoting their planned Cyberpunk 2020 New Year’s Eve experience in Birmingham, which if sufficiently successful will have the Cyberpunk RPG creator Mike Pondsmith attending for the night.
Despite traders being in the minority, there remained countless opportunities for buying new games. So much so, that many attendees give themselves a strict budget. It could be very easy to max out a credit card, as there were dozens of fantastic deals, such as the last chance to buy the Big Trouble in Little China boardgame (as no further copies will be printed due to the license expiring).
Previously it had been possible to comfortably see everything in a day, but that is no longer possible. Attendees can very easily spend a day exploring the show halls without ever actually joining any of the other events taking place. In order to fully appreciate UKGE, it is far better to attend UKGE for the whole weekend, thereby giving time for the ancillary activities that combine to make a more rounded experience.
Despite the crowds, which did make it challenging for the less able-bodied people to move around, the show was well laid out. Maps were available in the brochures and stands in Halls 1 and 2 were laid in a logical grid pattern with footways clearly named, allowing for ease of navigation.
Unfortunately, the event was not without a controversy. A games master was ejected for running a game that involved subject matter unsuitable for a public convention. That said, this was a one-off incident, amongst hundreds, if not thousands, of roleplaying games that were being played that day.
Due to the captured market, food and drink prices were extortionate, and in many cases some of the smaller stands were running out. However, it was great to see the neighbouring Film and Comic Con offered free entry to anyone with tickets from the UKGE.
If nothing else, UKGE is a welcoming and community-focused event, with people coming from all over the county, and in some cases beyond its borders, to attend. There is always something going on, people to meet up with, and lots of games available to play.
All photos are by Peter Gatehouse and are used with permission.