UK Games Expo - Day 1, Friday 4th June 2010

With the pre show starting on Friday (no traders) just lots of opportunities to play games I arrived in Birmingham and having checked into the hotel found myself with a selection of three games rooms to choose from and a bar. Faced with knowing nobody, where to start? I took the plunge in the largest of the three rooms and went up to a group of three guys who looked like they were just getting a game out of a box and had a spare chair and asked if I could join them. Thankfully they said yes and so my journey and indeed the games began.

1st Game - Seeland
The Seeland box artwork
The game they were setting up was a new game called Seeland from Ravensburg (the German equivalent, maybe, of Hasbro in the US) and involved the reclamation of the Dutch wetlands by the placement of windmills and the cultivation of tulips, cabbages and rapeseed. A beautiful looking game with high quality piece and graphics that uses a roundel (as part of the game mechanics) to determine what options are available concerning the acquisition of windmills and crops. It was somewhat strange to be the person who was quite obviously the least knowledgeable on a game (as running my own group and being the only buyer of games means I doubt if I have played any games in the last 20 years where I haven’t read the rules first) and frequently sought clarifications and benefited from the patience and kindness of my three fellow players (Paul, Steve and Brian). For a large part of the game Steve and Paul led the points through judicious placement of the resources they had available with me bringing up the rear, but somewhere around the half way mark things started to go better for me as I began to appreciate the nuance of the game and when it came to the final score I had somehow won - a surprise to both me and the others! For me at least I will definitely be looking to add Seeland to my collection at some point.
The Seeland Game in progress
Interspersed through the game the others were assailed by questions from me on all manner of things about the world of board games. It soon became clear that they inhabited another end of the hobby with I think Steve and Paul indicating that they typically played of the order of 60 games a month! I think my jaw hit the floor at this point and I felt a twinge in case my wife had heard that number.

2nd Game Workshop of the World
Workshop of the World box artwork
With this first game behind me Stuart joined the group and we started Workshop of The World, a game set in the Industrial Revolution and a new release at the show. With a board showing a map of Britain and its key industrial cities the aim is to establish industries in these cities and link them, in the first half of the game by canals and then in the second half by railroads. This game also introduced me to my first auction game where you have to bid to establish the order of play for the next turn. The 1st player being the person who bid the most that go and thereby having the pick of the cities to build his next industry in and as importantly add a canal or railroad connection to his other industrial cities. The game is being released by a UK company with a much smaller production run than Seeland and whilst well made, I felt the pieces and the board where functional rather than inspiring.

As an aside, I love history but studied the Industrial Revolution for my ‘O’ level and struggled to enjoy this period. I had chosen History as a subject because I had expected to study the ancients, the reformation, the Napoleonic period, the age of Empires, the early 20th century ANYTHING but the Industrial Revolution, a disappointment that I have never fully gotten over. This meant that the theme of this game was never going to really work for me. So it was no great surprise that with my inexperience of auction games and having been dragged back to this traumatic point in my life I came 5th (last)!

An interlude for Dinner
With the blood sugar levels dipping dinner was needed and we repaired to a local Indian for a very pleasant curry. I was lucky enough to join Paul Lister (owner of the internet retailer Board Game Guru), Tim Cockitt (of the games manufacturer TreeFrog) and Stuart Dagger (game player of over 30 years and editor for the much respected board game journal Counter) however I am not sure they felt quite so lucky! As they were assailed by what they might have felt was a barrage of questions and theorems about games and gaming. However for myself I couldn’t have met three more delightful people who were kind enough to share their significant experience.

3rd Game - Patrician(Patrizier)
Patrician box artwork
With the blood sugar back up and after a little light exercise to find a bank for Tim we returned to the main gaming room. It was now 10pm and having met up with Steve again along the way, we grabbed a table and having had a quick look at the 7 or so games Tim had brought with him we selected Patrician (Patrizier) a German game based around the Italian reformation period and reflecting the competitive nature of the major city states to build taller towers. A simple game that we played in an hour that was another first for me, in that I hadn’t played a building game before (or at least not on the vertical level).

Patrician game in progress
This was a game with good quality components that was quick to teach, with plenty of opportunity for interplay between the participants and would therefore be a good gateway game. Rumoured by Tim (the winner) to be selling at £8 tomorrow this seemed a definite to put in my swag bag if I could find it.

And so to bed + an interesting article
With the game done it was time to take a look round the rooms at all the other games being played and although it was now approaching midnight there was probably at least 60 people still deeply engrossed in a variety of games. The one that looked the most interesting to me was Antike, based around either the worlds of the Macedonians or Romans it seemed to me (superficially) to be comparable to Civilization. Many of my long term friends will smile at this as for many years my game of choice would have been Civilization! They for their part worked hard over a 20-30 year period to avoid this - successfully I might add.

And so to bed, or so I hoped, however with paper thin walls and a group of gamers next door this did not immediately mean sleep so I resorted to reading the program as an alternative. A very interesting article on encouraging more people to play games reminded me of my brother in laws comment that if he was to mention playing games to his friends they would see it as a geeky activity; the article started with a not dissimilar comment made to the author. Why though is this the case in the UK, when in mainland Europe and Germany in particular, it is so obviously not? The article quoted figures from NPD Group for the first half of 2009 that showed the games industry as being worth just 5% of the toy market in the UK, but 13% in Germany. It underlined the magnitude of difference further by listing the number of visitors to the German games expo as 200,000, the French one as 20,000 and the UK one as just 2,000!
And so to sleep.

Details of Day 2 can be read here

No comments:

Post a Comment