I recently attended the UK Games Expo 2019 and had a fantastic time. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the experience and some of the games that I played.
The UK Games Expo is the UK’s largest tabletop gaming convention. According to the official UKGE Instagram account, this year saw 25,000+ unique visitors, a rise of 15% since last year.
I went last year too, and while it was a lot of fun, I enjoyed this year a whole lot more. Last year I went by myself (my friends weren’t able to go and my wife couldn’t get the time off work), but this year a group of four of us attended. While there is still a lot of fun to be had if you do attend solo, I would definitely recommend trying to go with a group if you can. It means you always have someone to game with, and it just made me feel a whole lot more confident about asking for demonstrations of things, knowing that I’d be playing with people that I knew.
The show is a very welcoming and fun place to be, with tons going on. There’s traders, play testing, small indie publisher’s showing off their games, big publishers such as Games Workshop and CMON and Fantasy Flight with their own booths showing off their latest games, there’s talks and seminars, roleplaying, open gaming, games libraries, gaming tournaments, live entertainment and a whole lot more.
There’s so much going on that you’re always going to get a feeling that you missed some of it: it’s impossible to see everything, but I think it’s great that you can really find exactly what you want to do and focus on that. Want to come and roleplay for the whole weekend? Go for it. Want to come and do nothing else but watch seminars and talks? Why not. I think it’s great that people can really make the convention what they want it to be.
Of course, the biggest part of a gaming convention is the games. I played a bunch, and I wanted to talk about some of my favourites here. This isn’t everything that I played, but just the ones that have stuck in my mind the most. In no particular order:
1. Sushi Roll
I’ve been a big fan of Sushi Go! since I first played it around 5 years ago. Sushi Go! is a classic game that sits in a lot of peoples’ collections, and I think that the new dice-based version, Sushi Roll, may be even better.
Like Sushi Go! players take on the role of customers in a sushi restaurant trying to ensure that they get the best dishes and end with the most points. The difference here being that rather than drafting cards you are instead drafting beautiful custom dice with a variety of symbols on them.
One of the genius things about Sushi Go! was the marriage of theme and mechanics: the process of everyone passing their cards around the table and picking one to keep mirrored the famous conveyor-belt system of many sushi restaurants. That mirroring of theme and gameplay remains here and works wonderfully, perhaps even better than before, because you can now see what’s coming before it gets to you.
Quick to pick up, lovely components and extremely fun, I can’t imagine that this game isn’t going to be a massive success. (It sold out at the expo, and I imagine that is going to be a similar tale for quite a while). Get it if you can.
Rumbleslam is a game which sees teams of orcs, trolls, ratmen, dwarves, goblins and ogres facing off in a wrestling ring. It does for wrestling what Blood Bowl does for American football.
Though we played a version that had been somewhat simplified for demonstration purposes, it was great fun. My friend played a team that consisted of an orc, a troll and a goblin versus my team of a human, an ogre and a halfling.
Your wrestlers can bounce off the ropes, climb turnbuckles, fight with other wrestlers to cause damage, try and get the crowd on their side (which means rolling the crowd die: roll well and get a bonus, get booed and your turn ends), and grapple and throw each other out of the ring.
A quick paced and enjoyable dice-chucker with some really cool miniatures, I’d recommend giving it a go if it sounds like your thing.
KLASK is a game that has been around for a while, but the expo was my first time playing it.
Playing like a wooden cousin of Air-Hockey, KLASK sees two people using magnets to control their playing piece with the aim of getting the ball into their opponent’s goal. There’s also other magnetic pieces on the playing surface which will stick to you if stray too near, giving your opponent a point if you get two on you at once.
Fast paced and super slick, my wife and I had a brilliant time with KLASK. The slightly imprecise movement of having to direct your piece with a magnet adds an extra layer to the gameplay, and the addition of the magnetic pieces which clog up the table (which of course can be bounced towards your opponent if you skillfully hit the ball into them) add an even further dimension. (These are known as “biscuits” apparently).
Fantastic fun, it’s not hard to see how it has basically become a sport in its own right, spawning an annual world championship competition, complete with commentators, presenters and specific terminology.
4. Pucket / Rollet
Somewhat similar to KLASK are Pucket and Rollet, two wooden games from Et Games.
Pucket sees two players using elastic to try and shoot wooden discs through a narrow doorway in the centre of the table. Each player starts with 8 discs, and it’s a race to try and clear your area of discs before your opponent clears theirs. Of course, this is made difficult by the fact that your opponent is constantly firing their discs on to your side of the board. It’s fast, it’s frantic and it’s very enjoyable (and there was even a giant version in one of the halls).
Rollet sees you rolling metal ball bearings down ramps towards a wooden ball in the centre of the play area. The aim is to knock the ball into your opponent’s goal before they knock it into yours. It feels like a more sedate wooden remake of the legendary game Crossfire (see the excellent tv commercial below).
Both Pucket and Rollet were great fun, and it’s brilliant to see games made from ethically sourced materials.
5. Sumo Gnomes
Sumo Gnomes is a quick dice game which sees two gnomes attempting to wrestle each other off a tree stump.
Billed as only taking between 1-5 minutes to play, that certainly seemed to be the case when I played it (my bout against a stranger took around 5 minutes, and that was with us learning the rules).
On your turn you roll a number of dice to determine what actions you can perform. You’ll also have dice in your reserve left over from your previous turn which can be picked from instead, so it’s possible to work towards a decisive combination of moves by storing results for when you most need them. The dice let you move your gnome around the tree stump arena as well as pushing and moving your opponent. You can also grab them, which gives up one of your dice, but allows you greater options for ejecting them off the stump.
It does a great job of simulating a sumo wrestling match, with gnomes pushing and twisting each other around until they get into the right position, before one is finally thrown out of the arena and defeated.
The game was presented beautifully on a set of tree stumps which really helped catch the eye. The actual game (which is hand-made at this stage, so only a limited number were available) is smaller, being made up of dice and three beer-mat sized boards, perfect for a quick game in a pub or on a train.
A really enjoyable, quick little battler, Sumo Gnomes is set to come to Kickstarter later this year, and I think it’s going to do brilliantly.
There was another experience at the UK Games Expo which helped make it so much fun. I got to see one of the live entertainment shows, and that was:
The Dark Room
The Dark Room is a live comedy show presented by comedian John Robertson. I’ve never seen any live comedy before, and so when our friends (who had previously seen the show) said that they were getting us tickets, I was a little apprehensive, but I am so glad that I saw it.
The Dark Room sees audience members trying to navigate a fiendishly difficult (and hilarious) text-adventure video game, inspired by video games of the 1980’s. If you successfully navigate the game you win £1000, though that is very unlikely to happen as seemingly every choice leads further towards death.
The host, who feels like a cyberpunk Brian Blesssed meets Richard O’Brien, is hilarious and clearly very clever, offering a brand of sharp improvisational comedy which left my cheeks hurting from laughing so much.
It’s hard to sum up in words, but it was a fantastic experience, and it’s clear to see why the show has gained such a cult following (with probably about half the crowd being return visitors, shouting along with the various parts of the show).
The shows get (understandably) sold out very fast, but if you get the chance to see The Dark Room, and it sounds like it’s your thing, I would highly recommend it.
All in all, I had a superb time at this year’s UK Games Expo. I spent time with good friends, got to meet some new ones, bumped into people that I’ve admired for a while (such as the amazing guys from Shut Up and Sit Down) and played lots of great games.
If you’re in the UK and you enjoy tabletop games, the UK Games Expo is well worth a visit.