Last weekend I stepped out of my convention comfort zone and experienced the UK Games Expo at the NEC in Birmingham. My only experience of conventions previously had been half a dozen trips to London’s MCM Comic Con, and the odd local convention that tended to be tailored towards anime fans, so I didn’t really know what to expect from such a different kind of convention.
We drove up on the Friday, with the traffic adding an exhausting three extra hours to our trip. We arrived into Coventry in the evening, and the next morning took the short train ride to the convention centre. I was a little apprehensive, if I’m honest. An entire convention for board games? Would there really be enough to cover two days of our visit?
The con was buzzing. Over 25,000 people descended on the NEC over the three days, and I was impressed to see every corner of the halls bustling with activity. There was a variety of things to do – tournaments to watch or take part in, games to play test, stalls to shop at, Vikings to watch battle (more on those later).
An element of the con we really enjoyed was the Thirsty Meeples Board Game Library. For a £10 deposit, you received your own library card, and could borrow anything from their shelves to play. We discovered an amazing game called Undermining, where players have to drill for resources to sell for upgrades or fulfil contracts. It was a simple concept that really captivated us, and I spent the rest of the weekend hoping to source a copy from one of the many retailers, but sadly it appears to no longer be in production.
I did, however, break an obvious con rule, and bought Wasteland Express (which, if you’ve seen my post, you’ll know comes with a lot of pieces and is therefore pretty goddamn heavy) within the first ten minutes because it was £30(!) cheaper than I’d ever seen it online. Fortunately, they have a “Shop & Drop”, where you can hire a storage box for a day to hold your belongings. Unfortunately, these sold out really quickly on the Saturday and I had to settle for some heavy lifting all day. Worth it!
I managed to secure a few other bargains over the weekend, also snapping up Argo for £20, and picking up copies of the Dice Forge expansion and a couple of Key Forge decks too. My favourite buy was a Kickstarted strategy game called Brutality, a PvP experience where players fight against each other on a board using character’s unique combat moves, and utilising environmental hazards like fire and spikes.
I was particularly excited about seeing the Viking reenactment (despite the raised eyebrows of my friends), and we found them with tents pitched beside the lake as we left the halls for lunch. We ate chips and curry sauce, looking on as a very shouty Viking instructed a dozen children to line up. They were given wooden sticks and after some intimidating chants, were ordered to attack the opposing line of adult Vikings. As you can imagine, it was a massacre. Highlights included one boy who had clearly watched too many films, going around to the defeated Vikings “dead” on the ground and slowly stabbing them to ensure they definitely wouldn’t be causing them anymore trouble…
All weekend we stopped by the ITB Board Games stand, desperate for a chance to play the sequel to one of our all-time favourites, Sub Terra. Fortunately, a table finally became free last thing on Sunday, and we got to experience a game as our final activity of the weekend. Sub Terra II uses many of the same mechanics as the first game, but there are enough changes made in setting, characters and enemies for it to feel like a completely new experience. As well as enemies, you also need to keep an eye on the volcano, which when triggered will flood the tiles with lava and potentially cut off your escape…
All in all, this was one of the best con experiences of my adult life. MCM Comic Con will always hold a special place in my heart, but my interests have shifted a little with age, and the UK Games Expo gave me everything I was looking for. I look forward to returning next year, where I think I’ll make more time to trial new games, and no doubt extend my games collection a little more.