Lets sum up…UK Games Expo 2016

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2015: Escaping with my life

I’ll begin this post with a quick recap of the first couple times we went to the Expo. Back in the olden days all the hustle and bustle of the trading section was crammed into the 2 or 3 event halls of 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 merged into a singular entity of violent bargain hunting.

 

One of the stand out features of the Expo in those early days was the queues. I remember the queues for the coffee shop serpentined out the door and into the parking, and oh God! I remember the ATM debacle. 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 was also quite memorable. Somewhere in those early years of the “board gaming golden age”, the organizers had somehow forgotten that people do infact eat food. The poor clerk at the Hiltons kiosk barricaded himself inside after the place was ransacked and shelves left emptier than anti-matter. I’m pretty sure I saw him lying in the foetal position, crying behind the desk.

At some point, someone had the bright idea of ordering Dominoes to the hotel lobb, which was also precisly the time that all hell broke loose. They became so busy from nerds dying of hunger, that no sooner had one delivery guy dropped off, another one would be arriving with a fresh pile of double pepperoni meat feasts. I think at one point they just started chucking them through the door, into the amalgamous entity of ravenous gamers, so they didn’t have to waste time with taking their money (or risk being devoured).

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2015: The waft. Well impressive.

2015s tourney situation was probably on par with 2014s culinary Sodom. I didn’t participate in any tournament then as I was only down for the 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. 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. I think the noxious fumes inside the tent started to rewire their brains into believing it was some kind of cocoon of geek excretion & competition. In short, pre-2016 UK Games Expo was fun, but thick with nerd issues that needed a bit of professional gleen.

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2016: Losing so hard, I forgot where I was

Cue 2016! This years event was WAY more polished and incredibly well-organized. Expo visitors had a massive section of the NEC all to themselves for trade and demos, as well as a good section of the Hilton for  tournaments. Fortunately those that competed in tournaments this year, had space and were able to use our actual lungs ti breath while we played.

I was vying for the European Marshall badge in the Doomtown tournament. I use the phrase “vying for” extremely loosely. 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 is how close I was to getting anything. There were 49 of us, and I think I came about 41rst by scoring points from 2 games. One of which I didn’t even play anyone. Nonetheless, it was brilliant. I love Doomtown and any chance I get to play with other people that enjoy this game is great. So do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s top-notch and you wont be disappointed.

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I’m sure he loves his job

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) 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“. 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 unequivocally yes. Sweet fancy Moses yes. It’s probably the most awe inspiring looking game ever.
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.

I will say that 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 their fault and more to do with business shenanigans, but i would have thought since the Expo hosted the EUROPEAN DOOMTOWN MARSHALL event there should be some banners and love for Doomtown, Love Letter and others. Not to mention their new darling “Mystic Vale” was kept on the lowdown as well for some reason. Really strange.

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Throne of Games…cracks me up

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 cult beginnings, and is now attracting 25000 people  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.

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Review: Coup…How good is your poker face?

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IMG_0319[1]‘The Resistance’ is pretty much an institution in board gaming by now. Thats just a fact of life. If you turned over a rock in the desert, you would find a table of neurotic board gamers shrieking in a high register “I’m not a SPY!!” So when Indie Boards & Cards announced back in April on Kickstarter they were reskinning the original Coup with a Resistance theme, we came running like a crack addicted bullet train. Well the time has come, and its finally arrived.

As the government starts to collapse around you, up to six players seek to take control by influencing key figures in a political poker game. Each person is dealt 2 cards, the Duke, Ambassador, Captain, Assassin or the Contessa. These cards represent officials that you have leverage with. You’ll take turns claiming you have favour with one of the aforementioned characters, using their powers to get money, kill your political opponents or gain more influence, all in the aid of funding your coup d’ etat. However, any of your opponents can contest your supporter, and if you are caught trying to take advantage of the situation without the favour of your claimed political figure, you lose influence. On the other hand though, if you DO have the support you claimed to have, your challenger looks like a fool and he/she loses their influence. Once you’ve lost both of your supporters, you are out of the game and need to take a seat on the losers couch with Sarah Palin. Ultimately though, just like a sword fight between immortals, there can be only one. The last back-stabbing politician standing wins.

One of the cool side effects of ‘Coup’ is it fleshes out the narrative that ‘The Resistance’ started. In the latter you witnessed events from the perspective of freedom fighters in a corrupt dystopian future, whereas in ‘Coup’ you get to see how high rollers do business. The next time you finish 5 or 6 games of ‘The Resistance’ you won’t have that hollow feeling of a bad come down anymore. Now you get to see the other side the story. While the grunts are fighting the good fight destabilizing the status quo, others are ready to step in and seize control in these opportunistic times.

IMG_0320[1]Even if you’ve been living in a cave for the last 4 years and you’ve never heard of ‘The Resistance’, ‘Coup’ is a sublime game by itself. Its wickedly fast, super tense and just oh so exciting. When you’re holding on to your last card and the turn is going round, you’ll be frantically scheming trying to ready yourself for your next move. You’ve decided to bluff holding the Duke, which will gain you the 3 credits to pay for the Assassin that you are actually holding. Its finally your turn, you try to sneak those precious credits in unnoticed. As your fingertips just touch the prize, you think “YES! I’ve done it. No one will suspect a thing”. You start to slink the money towards you when you hear the challenge from across the table, “Like Hell you’re the Duke! I’ve got the Duke”. You can’t show weakness but your backs up against the wall, inside your screaming, “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO???” You play it cool, time to show them what you’re made of. “Are you sure you want to make that call?”, a cold look of steel about your face, but really your legs are like jelly jumping castles. Your challenger hesitates, not wanting to lose their last card in a rash decision. He begins a retort but you cut it short, “Fine, just means one less of you I need to eliminate”. You reach for you card confidently, ready to flip it over, it’s do or die anyway, then you hear the withdrawal, “Alright. Take the money…this time”. You think to yourself, “Yes! A life-line. Now all I have to do is…”, the person next to you chucks 7 credits your way, “I’m couping you. You’re dead”. Your head drops between your chest and the table erupts into laughter. This is the sort of entertainment you just can’t put a price on. ‘Coup’ is an absolutely awesome game. Get it or you’ll get left behind.

Kickstarters of the week 18/11/2013

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Christmas may not come early this year but this weeks Kickstarters will. This is your last shot at backing these awesome projects in their final hours. As always, we’re watching your back so you don’t have to…plus that would leave a nasty crick in your neck. Lets begin shall we?

Brew Crafters: A board game about making beer

c94de757c3d48b32e513d9d6345a4d22_largeIn continuing last weeks thread of innovative games, we’re going to show you a game whose subject matter is quite close to most gamers that’ve ever hosted a game night. Well, sort of…We’re not brewing anything, we’re just drinking it, but just hear me out for second. Beer has become intrinsically connected to board games in recent times, epitomised by the likes of the Beer & Board Games Show and Wil Wheatons collaboration with fark.com creator Drew Curtis and Stone Breweries to create their own imperial stout. What a handsome looking beverage, don’t you think? Thanks to these guys though, twitter is now awash with board gamers tweeting about their favourite ales. Hell! I’ve even gone full hipster & make sure I always check the beer section in our local store. I’m not really a hipster though…What was that? Why yes, I do collect 70’s prog rock records…& yes, I also ride a single speed bike…but I’m not a hipster….I swear……F*%k. I’m a hipster. Moving on. Refreshingly this new-found love of beer is performed in a really sensible manner. People are genuinely interested in knowing their hops from their barley, so it was inevitable that this subject matter would “crop” up in board game form at some stage. What’s amazing though, is that this could ONLY have been done as a board game. I doubt you could get kids excited with a flash game about managing your own brewery. “Tap the screen when your beer is ready….loading….loading….loa…*zzzzzzz*”. However! The moment you say “we’re making a euro style board game about beer brewing, where you’ll have to compete against players for ingredients like malt, yeast and fruits in a market place, while developing new beers in an expanding facility AND managing your breweries costs & output”, I say “Oh. Hell. But. F*%k yeah!” There’s something magical about board games that lets us investigate a subject in an interactive yet entertaining way that no other medium can achieve. Brew Crafters not only looks beautiful but also looks like a charming and sincere game to play. The thought of collecting those Pumpkin Stout tokens is too good. I reckon fans of Kolejka and Viticulture will enjoy this.

Shadows Of Brimstone

8d9c585bafdf3ea75a8afbef638b6e37_largeWoah! It looks like this game needs no help from anybody as its made over a million frickin’ dollars! But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t report on the big guns as well as the little guys. Shadows Of Brimstone is not the only game to net a substantial figure on kickstarter though. You might remember Kingdom Death from one of our earlier posts. While Kingdom Death might be having its share of teething pains during its development, lets hope Shadows Of Brimstone avoids any of these set backs that seem to bog down the more succesful kickstarters. Aside from financial likeness though, SoB does share many other similarities with its millionaire cousin. Both are expansive dungeon crawl epics that come chocka-block with highly detailed miniatures, and as things get better on kickstarter, more options are being unlocked in the stretch goals as we speak. If I recall Kingdom Death ended up with 11 expansions by the end of their campaign. Thats NUTS! There’s obviously something about these kind of games that get people reaching for their wallets quicker than a wild west gunslinger in a showdown. However I think the main feature that’s attracting backers to Shadows Of Brimstone is the setting and story. Watch the games developers talk about just ONE of the worlds you get to explore in this video. It’s clear that these guys love this stuff and have spent a lot of time developing the mythos in this beast of a game.

7309aba848931b71a8c02a7ffc948a5a_largeSo the premise of the game is this. Once upon a time in a small mid-western mining town called Brimstone, townsfolk started finding a mysterious black rock. More & more of this precious stone was mined and stock piled around the town. Unfortunately this served as a catalyst for the unknown material to react in a violent explosion, destroying everything in its wake. From out of the smoke and charred remains, inter-dimensional demons started to emerge and Hell on earth had been unleashed. As the mines spewed forth unspeakable horrors, Brimstone would never be the same again. If your familiar with Descent or Cave Evil then Shadows Of Brimstone will be right up your alley. Players embark on a massive campaign, exploring the mines one stage at a time, finding new equipment while upgrading in small frontier towns in the interim, until finally you reach portals to the other side, where your quest goes from a spaghetti western to a Lovecraftian nightmare. The game comes in 2 flavours from the get go, either you take your chances in the frozen wastelands in the City of The Ancients, or you can try your luck wading through the sludge of the otherworldly Swamps of Death. It’s all very schlocky and is your standard dungeon crawl affair, but that’s exactly what you want from this kind of game. You don’t need to elevate yourself to a higher plane of enlightenment to enjoy this. It’s a straight balls-to-the-wall dungeon slug-fest, only this time you get to be cowboys and cowgirls. Something we definitely need more of in the board game world. All I have is BANG! (which is amazing!), but it does surprise me just how much a simple flip of the switch can add so much colour and life to a well established genre. So if your tired of the usual fantasy warrior/elf/dwarf kind of thing, I reckon this will satisfy any urge to go down in to the bowels of hell.

The Kings Armory

bad45eb08f011dd6cc5881d1131a4f73_largeDon’t throw away your Gandalf hat just yet though. You want fantasy? You got it. Before I got stuck into The Kings Armory’s kickstarter page, when I thought of tower defense games I could only muster images of grumpy commuters on the 6AM tube to London Bridge frantically smashing their iPhone screens, trying to throw shit heaps of plantlife at hordes of oncoming zombies. Needless to say my knowledge of the genre was fairly limited. So when I saw a kickstarter for a board game that claims to be “THE” tower defense game, I figured, “all right hot-shot, lets see what you got”. After spending some time lurking the page I am now confident that TKA is exactly what it says it is. In fact, I am pretty sure that the people who INVENTED the genre are probably clenching their fists so hard round about now, that they could compress a lump of coal into a diamond.This is Gate Keeper Games second attempt at Kickstarter for the Kings Armory, but that is completely irrelevant because, in short, this is going to be a wicked game! The first campaign was criticised mostly due to its unreachable funding goal, but this time around GKG has streamlined things, polished off the rust and delivered a tour de force of a package.

da22c5bcbd45a0eb96d4dd6e663f4fb4_largeDown to the nitty-gritty. In TKA up to 7 players take the side of the king’s guard, who are sworn to protect the armory which holds terrible & great weapons of destruction. Wave after wave of monstrous being pours out from the enemy’s camp with the sole objective of breaking through your walls. It’s your job to stand in their way and take it . Unlike plants Vs zombies, pears Vs ninjas, monkeys Vs parking attendants or any of those other finger melting games of pure swill, what strikes me as the main selling point of TKA is its variability. You can change the difficulty, the length of the game, the number of monsters, the number of players, the modes of play, you name it. The game even accounts for new players joining in late or players leaving early, WITHOUT unbalancing the game. The level of adaptability is truly remarkable. Actually everything about this game looks like tremendous fun. Right down to the slightly goofy art, the fantasy fiction character names, the whole thing looks to me like the kind of game that should be advertised on the back of some comic book with a picture of an over zealous kid exclamating “The Kings Armory ROCKS!”. It’s not just a wave of nostalgia that attracts me to this game though, its more the fact that the whole prospect is so exciting, and for a long time now fantasy board games have needed a kick up the ass. The warrior will be tanking enemies as they desperately storm passed you, as your mage, positioned in one of your constructed towers, shoots fire balls at the ones that manage to slip past, hopefully setting them ablaze so that may burn asunder in their upkeep phase. Once you’ve managed to hunt the last little bastard of a wave down, you get a moment of respite to buy new armour and weapons, before gearing up for the next attack. Slowly getting better equipped but edging closer to death. “Here they come again!”. You keep chopping at that bit, dodging and weaving, chasing and crushing until finally the big boss comes rampaging through their gates, throwing your troops across the battle field like rag dolls and you need to collectively regroup for that one last stand. Eh-pic. If I own just one tower defense game in my life time, I think I’ll make it this one.