If you’re even remotely interested in board games, but have never been to a tabletop games expo or convention… I’m about to explain to you the error of your ways.
Arriving at the NEC in Birmingham, I make my way down to Hall 1 where I am about to attend my first ever board game convention – The U.K Games Expo. The first clue that I’m in the right place is when a perfect cosplay of Sailor Moon walks right past me clutching a brand new copy of the Dark Souls board game, heading in the opposite direction toward the on-site Hilton Hotel. It’s 10am on Sunday, the last of the three days of the packed out event, and I’m brimming with excitement about what could possibly be in store for me.
I’ve been a fan of board games for longer than I can remember, with my earliest tabletop memory being a game of Monopoly in a cold static caravan in the midst of torrential Cornish rain storm. These days I’m into slightly more complex things like Gloomhaven, Codenames, Munchkin and Mystery of the Abbey. In the past few years I’ve become the co-organiser of a successful weekly gaming group down in Devon, as well as a Dungeons & Dragons DM… But I’ve never attended anything like this before. The nerd in me was ready to come out and play. Without fear of judgement, and completely by myself, I was unleashed to revel in the delights of board games, cosplay, exhibitions and maximum level geekery.
As I claim my ticket, my lanyard and a free copy of the luxuriously glossy 102 page programme, I am practically shaking with excitement. I high-five an attendant wearing a giant foam ‘Dobble’ hand on the way in, and subsequently bump in to a fully armoured Uruk-Hai warrior who later tries to claim my head in the name of Saruman. My senses are completely overwhelmed as I reach for my camera to start recording a vlog for my YouTube channel. I instantly regret only booking for 1 day as my eyes scan the enormous hall set before me and I try to process it all. It’s also the same weekend as Collectormania in Hall 5 directly opposite (hence the over-abundance of cosplayers perhaps), and I try to contain myself as I am aware that Stargate’s Dr. Daniel Jackson is in that very room signing autographs. This is truly the Disney World of nerdism.
“FOR SAR-OO-MAN! PUNY HUMAN.”
I decide to start walking. It’s not long before I experience a number of eyebrow raising moments; an enormous Dropzone Commander space ship model on display, an actual double-decker bus designed specifically for playing board games in and what appears to be a wall covered in hundreds of board games for sale. I then hear an announcement in an echoing voice say, “Ladies and Gentleman the Viking combat display is about to take place outside by the lake. That’s the Viking combat display, outside by the lake.” I’m speechless.
The day before I had seen on Twitter that the people behind one of my favourite apps, Zombie’s Run, would be demoing their upcoming board game. So, I set about finding them as a starting point and promptly put my name down to play a half hour session, my first game of the day. I then met the game’s designer, he was standing right there! I even shook his hand and everything. What amazes me throughout the day is that these enormously popular games are, for the most part, being explained by the actual people who made them. They don’t send staff to do the job for them, they are passionate and care about their creation enough to explain it to you face to face. At this point, I’m grinning like an idiot as I finish evading the zombie hordes and set off to wander around the NEC.
Later that day I met up with a couple of friends, and we went on to try out a few more board games, one was great and one not so good – such is the nature of experimental play-testing. Some of the highlights of my day included; haggling some amazing bargains on brand new board games, picking up a Guards Against Insanity expansion for a fiver (normally £14 on Amazon!), making some new friends, meeting some amazing cosplayers including a jaw-dropping Elven Princess type character and of course, seeing lots of cool new games on display.
This was my first time experiencing something like this and it certainly won’t be my last. After I’d made my way home, and talked Emma’s ear off about the things I’d seen, I flicked through the programme in a bit more detail. It was there I realised I’d missed out on open gaming on the Friday and Saturday “until late”, live entertainment, seminars and workshops, a massive Pokemon tournament and there was also a Dark Room experience with a tabletop gaming comedian. I dropped the book in disgust, not with the expo but with myself for not planning ahead and missing out on SO MUCH COOL STUFF.
As I sit here silently in my living room and finish writing up my experience, I make a vow to myself: I’m definitely going next year, for the full three days this time, and I’m going to try my hardest to bring a cosplay outfit too. I then read online that the U.K Games Expo has grown in popularity so much so that it is now the third most popular tabletop gaming convention in the world after Gen-Con (U.S.A) and Essen (Essen, obviously).
The Golden Age of Geekery has arrived my friends. And It. Is. Beautiful.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to check out some of my other articles and leave me a comment below with your thoughts. You can follow me on Twitter @cptnmingo for all the latest updates and you can also find weekly vlogs of my adventures on YouTube right here – which is the same place you will be able to find my vlog of the U.K Games Expo 2017! Goodbye :).