The first time we went to the expo in 2014, all the hustle and bustle of the trading section was crammed into 2 or 3 “mediumish” halls in the Hilton and a small room round the side for “bring & buy”, which due to its popularity and position, inadvertently resembled a Mongolian fish market. It was like hundreds of geeks and board games amalgamated into a singular entity of violent bargain hunting.
I remember the queues for the coffee shop serpentined out the door and into the parking, and oh God the ATM! It literally melted out of the wall after an hour of trading on the Saturday morning, so there was a constant back & forth exodus of people between the hotel and the train station a kilometre away.
The food situation, or lack thereof I should say, was also quite memorable. Somewhere in those early years of the “board gaming golden age”, the organizers had somehow forgot that people eat food to survive. The poor clerk at the kiosk of the Hilton had barricaded himself in the shop after the place was ransacked and the shelves left emptier than anti-matter. I’m pretty sure I saw him curled up in a ball, crying behind the desk. Then, at some point someone had the bright idea of ordering Dominoes to the hotel lobby….and that’s when all hell broke loose. They were so busy that no sooner had one delivery guy left, did another arrive. But as the gaming continued into the night, so did the hunger grow. It was an exquisitely disgusting sight to behold. Dominoes were sending cars and mopeds together, delivering en masse to the hordes of food deprived gamers. I think at one point they were just chucking them through the door, into the aforementioned amalgamous entity, so they didn’t have to waste time with taking its money (or risk being devoured). It was hilarious…..and by hilarious, I mean total wank. Charming wank, but wank nonetheless.
This years events were WAY more polished and incredibly well-organized. All of us “Conners” had a massive section of the NEC all to ourselves for trade and demos, as well as a good section of the Hilton for tournaments. Last years tourney situation was probably on par with 2014s culinary Sodom. I didn’t participate in any tournament then as I was only down for one day, but I remember wanting to check on my Netrunner buddies and see how they were doing. When I found the tournament “tent” the first thing that hit you as you entered was a dense waft of nerd humidity. I can still taste it on my teeth. It was fucked. Trust me. Luckily that’s all I remember from last year though. Well, that and the terrible expression on people’s faces as they emerged from said tent, whenever they could for a breath of fresh air, looking like confused new-born bats. No doubt the noxious fumes inside the tent started to rewire their brains into thinking it was some kind of cocoon of geek excretions & competition. I’m telling you, from the outside, the place heaved.
Fortunately this year, we had space and were able to use our lungs while we competed. I was vying for the European Marshall badge in the Doomtown tournament. I say I was “vying for” it, but I mean I didn’t stand a nose hair of a chance of even seeing it. I would have to get a character witness to describe it to a police sketch artist to show me, is how close I was to winning anything. There were 49 of us and I think I came 41rst by scoring points from 2 games. And one of those games I didn’t even play anyone. Nonetheless, it was amazing. No seriously, it was. I love Doomtown and any chance I can play with others that enjoy the game is great. So do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s top-notch and you wont be disappointed. Anyway, I digress.
Like I said earlier, trading was designated to the event center this year, and what a difference it made. There was less walking around, endlessly scanning table after table of retailers (although they were still there – just in nicer areas apart from each other) and more browsing current & future wares from designers and publishers alike. For me the game of the Expo was “Wizards Academy” by 3D Total games. Gregory Carslaw, the designer, was giving hands on demonstrations of the game, and he is clearly very passionate about his project.
I also managed to catch a glimpse of the new long-awaited, and now Dice Tower endorsed Stonemeier Game”Scythe“, being demoed at a retailers table. If you’ve seen any of the pictures or videos that are floating about online, you’ll probably be wondering if it really looks that good in real life? Well the answer is yes. Sweet fancy Moses yes. It’s probably the most awesome looking game ever. I can’t wait to get a hands on look at the game myself.
Queen Games always have good representation at the expo and this year was no exception. They were showing off the new Richard Garfield game, “Treasure Hunter” and a reskin of Dschunke called “London Markets“. Both look interesting and if you like drafting or auction mechanics, they might be worth a look.
AEG let me down though. As the publisher of a few of my favourite games, I can’t believe how little representation they had. Now that might not be a fault of their own and more to do with bullshit business, but seriously, the expo hosted the EUROPEAN DOOMTOWN MARSHALL and there was NOTHING for Doomtown. Not a damn lick. For me, that’s just shit management. Not to mention their new darling “Mystic Vale” was kept on the lowdown as well for some reason. Really strange.
Other highlights included taking part in a live game of Pandemic with Tom Vasel, which is something I would really like to see more of in the future. Podcasts and live RPGs are the rage these days so I really think that live board games can be a good next step for that sort of thing.In short, the board game industry has really grown into an “industry”. It’s far beyond its niche beginnings attracting 25000 people to the expo this year with an increase of 40% attendance. It’s always been a great weekend for us, but what really makes it worth while is the atmosphere. I’m already looking forward to next year.