Chris - Saturday morning, and bleary eyed started to write this blog entry, as the train is rushing along to Birmingham. For today is the 2nd day of the 10th UK Games Expo. The UK Games Expo apparently has grown, requiring much more space at the Birmingham NEC, when previously it had just made use of the local hotel space. Of course size wise it is not on the scale of Essen Spiel (which is itself is far larger than GENCON), but it is a good thing that it is growing and playing host to some of the best gaming companies and products in the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. Especially as perhaps far to much emphasis is given to GENCON when a significant part of the gaming market, and games developers are European based, especially board games.
This year is the first time Darker Days Radio are attending, with myself and James looking to see what cool stuff is coming out soon, what the new releases are, and getting to chat to industry insiders and games designers. It’s also our first time there personally too. Highlights included war games miniatures, terrain, and hopefully some rpgs.
James - It seems that a lot of people I know descended on the Board Game Expo that lovely Saturday morning, as the train drew closer to Birmingham more and more t-shirts and outfits loudly proclaimed that people who loved games were gathering together and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.
C - After a good half of the day walking about and figuring out just what to try out the first port of call was ‘Molecular’, which is an excellent “Scrabble meets chemistry” game. Excellent components and it should prove to be a great teaching tool and useful for outreach to schools at work, especially once the expansions are out too. For novices, it is just a simple tile game where you connect the atoms and try to create particular clusters, "functional groups", for scoring. Cards alter the way you can score, or other game play mechanics.
J - I’d been looking forward to seeing Inside the Box games and they certainly didn’t disappoint, we played a great demo of Molecule where Chris did a lot of great research and then I stole all the credit for his findings. I was also impressed by the amount of fun people were having playing Statecraft so I put money down for a per-order on the Kickstarter which is live right now. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/itbboardgames/statecraft-a-political-strategy-game-for-2-6-playe).
C - James being a "chemist". Welcome to my world.
C - We also had the pleasure of saying hi to Andy Chambers and Mark Gibbons and trying out Dark Deeds and grabbing a copy of that. The game has a party game style that also has an emergent story as you try and rob and mug nobles, beat up guards and more. Simple mechanics, but fast and furious game play. The components themselves feature the excellent art of Mark Gibbons, with chunky tokens and a mousemat material template to represent the road down which you will be mugging people.
C - The main demo highlight has been Dark Souls. The Kickstarter for the game by Steamforged games was a huge success, and for a complete Dark Souls novice such as myself, the game clearly has simple, but deep mechanics and strategy, that while on the surface appears similar to Kingdom Death, the two games only have surface similarities. But I will leave it up to James to explain how Dark Souls worked.
J - For me a real highlight was getting to try my hand at the Dark Souls board game, in development by Steamforged Games. While unsuccessfully trying to convince myself not to buy the Hunter Guild Ball team (but you did - Chris) a spot opened up at a Dark Souls demo and I took my chance. I was led through the demo by Alex, one of the designers, who talked a lot about the development of the game and gave me a lot of confidence that it was in good hands.
Alex was great at explaining the slightly streamlined cards we were using for the encounter with the infamous Dancer of the Boreal Valley of Dark Souls 3 fame, and thanks to him I picked up the rules really quickly. While the standard rules feel easy to grasp, they feel like there’s depth to them and as the Dancer unleashed its attacks familiar patterns emerged. I dodged and weaved through them feeling as if my experience playing the videogames were imbuing me with vital insight.
The boss started with a truly terrifying amount of health but as I chipped away at the Dancer I pushed my luck by recklessly spending stamina while completely forgetting that a boss in Dark Souls always has a way to make thing more dangerous, on reaching half health the AI deck had a new card added and was shuffled making the dancer unpredictable and dangerous.
J - The stamina and health both being part of the same resource pool felt beautifully "Dark Soulsian", as the Dancer got low on health I pushed one of my characters more than what was safe and it suddenly felt really risky leaving them potentially so off balance.
I can’t wait to get my hands on my Kickstarter copy. I think anyone who has already put money down can probably rest easy as it’s shaping up to be excellent fun.
C - Guild Ball of course is going strong, with a new team out in the form of the Hunters. James having picked up that team will have to get back on how they play. I bagged some more models for the Alchemists and Morticians of course!
C - It was also great to see so many war games companies here, and seeing the sheer variety of styles of war games that are available. A good number also fill those niche areas where fast game play and smaller armies are desired. This being a major feature of quirky war game Relics. Made locally in Sheffield, Relics has wicked looking "stitchpunk" creatures, goblins and more.
J - One of the first games to grab my attention as we walked around was Relic from Tor Games. They piqued my interest due to their novel scale but kept my attention due to their cool “stitchpunk” ascetic. The models themselves are short and full of character, the Ridend in particular were a cool set of models as they look like they’d be right at home in Labyrinth. They immediately made me want to use them in roleplay games as questing goblins or kobolds and the rest of the range also has great promise for inspiring interesting encounters.
C - Up close, Mierce Miniatures and the Darklands material look fantastic. High quality resin that are certainly a treat for painters.
C - Equally, Shadows of Esteren, a dark and gloomy medieval fantasy rpg has fantastic books and also superb resin minis. Something too keep an eye on. Translated from French, Shadows of Esteren got a thumbs up by OPP freelancer and Mage the Awakening developer, Dave Brookshaw (who was there looking at Drop Fleet Commander amongst other things).
C - Hawk Wargaming always bring their A-game with their excellent models for Drop Fleet Commander and Drop Zone Commander. Plus their huge scale model of the spaceships in the game in the 10mm scale of DZC.
C - Another rather wicked looking game is Route 666, which is similar to the GW classic, Dark Future. The models are somewhat chunkier than using matchbox cars, and the starter game is reasonably priced, with rather simple mechanics to keep the game fast paced.
Shiny and Chrome!
C - River Horse games were there showing off their game based on Labyrinth. Many of the sculpts are spot on recreations of the characters from the film.
C - Scenery is of course another major part of gaming, and Dark Ops produce some fantastic laser cut mdf terrain the would work well for Warmachine and Hordes, IKRPG, and other skirmish games.
J - Something I hadn’t expected to see were the awesome Geeknson board games tables. If you are seriously serious about your games I could see one of these beautiful and functional tables being a real treat. As someone who always rolls my dice a little bit too energetically I can tell the recessed tabletop would be a really neat way of keeping all the action on the table and the sunken play area can even be left set up while the cover is on top, great if your gaming nights also involve eating meals.
J - Unfortunately for us it seems that the day wasn’t quite long enough to get around all the games we’d like to have played. We could have spent a day just walking around and getting familiar with the offerings before sitting down to play anything. I’m definitely looking forward to next year and hoping I can save up some money to really take advantage of the great deals that were on offer.
C - Damn right!