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Birmingham at the beginning of June and the fun has rolled right back into town with a double helping of NEC magic. In one series of Halls thousands of gamers are enjoying the amazingly growing UKGamesExpo and just a short stroll (for me a short roll) across the concourse sits Film & Comic Con Collectormania where all manner of celebrities and stars can be found. A great deal done by the UKGE organisers sees the Comic Con doors open to UKGE badge-wearing attendees from 1pm onwards on Sunday. 

Comic Con Collectormania
Sadly Comic Con at 1pm found many of the celebrities already departed and a lot of the others on their lunch breaks. Note to self (and other UKGE attendees) although the Comic Con doors are open to us all at 1.00pm try waiting until 2.00pm before wandering over. I did see a few footballers, ex-West Ham and Spurs and had a brief but enjoyable chat with Graham Roberts whom Spurs could really have done with in Madrid on the Saturday.

   
                                             Billy Bonds Trevor Brooking & 'ello ello' stars
   
                                            Lego Star Wars at Comic Con &  Hall at 1.00pm

                                                        
The wonderful smile of Graham Roberts used to only be seen by opposing forwards laying on the ground after a crunching (but fair 7 legal) tackle

Now Back to UKGE:
Things I found out at UKGE this year include the fact that more games companies are coming over to the UK from the 'Eastern Bloc' and the 'Far East'. I also discovered that miniatures themselves and figure painting has travelled far beyond the metallic blobs I used to try to paint. Nowadays the mini's are mostly made of durable plastic that allows much more detail and that figure painters are the equivalent of some fantasy artists.

 

Demo Games
It was great to see that many games companies are ensuring eye-catching interest from the masses by producing extremely large demo versions of their games. Not only are these demo games ten times the size of the regular boxed game but they are often ten times the fun too - Dr EUREKA with huge test tubes - large cutaway U-Boats - giant foam Bugs - the list isn't endless but it's quite long and definitely large on fun! Nearly every other company had at least one demo table and either volunteers or company staff who were knowledgeable on the game/s.

 

New Games & New Games Companies
UKGE is a great place for first time game companies to get their games into the public eye and into as many homes and onto as many dining room tables as possible. UKGE has grown exponentially over the years as has the Bring n Buy - I didn't get to see it this year though I heard it was about the size of a small city - and although it was noted last year as the third largest 'games' convention in the West, behind GenCon Indy and Spiel Essen, it is being seen by many, from all over, as the latest 'best thing since sliced bread' and I haven't heard anything to the contrary.

 

Disabled Gamers
In case you were wondering, the UKGE organisation ensures that disabled players, and especially wheelchair users, are made welcome and have plenty of room to get around, play games, and more importantly roll on 'up to' the trade exhibitor stands. All of those stands, at least all of those that I approached, had enough room at their personal game table/s for a wheelchair to sit in and enjoy the demo game available. Disabled gamers are a minority but it is excellent that they have been so well considered.

 

Food & Drink 
You can bring in your own food and drink but the prices at the stands and cafe/restaurants within the NEC are not over-priced, plus it is great to be able to sit down at a table and relax with a cup of coffee while discussing the event. People who do bring their own refreshments are generally well behaved and use the bins for rubbish etc. Whether it is the NEC staff or the UKGE organisation who have arranged it I don't know, but the halls are kept as clean as possible throughout the show. To not see rubbish all over the floor - bags, game boxes, packets etc - is something that the majority take for granted, I just wanted it known that I noticed it.

 

All your gaming needs under one roof. Okay maybe not all your gaming needs (though it is possible you might find a new friend and player) but you'd be hard pushed not to find what you wanted here, whether you knew that you wanted it or not. More and more people are purchasing these highly impressive games tables and thus more companies are producing them. I have to say that they look amazing but then I guess more and more people have large rooms (like I wish I had) for gaming. I did see a number of games companies using them as demo tables so my guess is they are more portable than first looks suggest.

 

As UKGamesExpo has expanded in size so it has grown in stature, so much so that many Games Companies are now debuting either their brand new products or launching new Kickstarter Projects, as well as displaying a lot of what you will be getting when the campaigns complete. UKGE is the best, if not only, event in the UK where thousands of games players and games companies come together for a long weekend to ensure the safety of the UK games industry.

 

There are specialist events, charity events, competitions in all manner of games playing, guests from the games industry and games companies from all over the world. Despite the fact that UKGE is now so busy it is in such a large venue that getting around it is a pleasure not an endurance. 

One of the great things about UKGE is that you will find smaller independent companies rubbing shoulders with larger independent companies who are touching base with small, medium and large companies of renown who are happy with the super input from the major players in the games industry, players such as the mighty Asmodee; Asmodee the company that has grown from a small conglomerate of independents into one of the largest and best known groups in the West and one of the sponsors of (in fact THE top sponsor of) UKGE.

 

Held around the same time each year UKGE should be one of the first events you mark in your diary (on your calendar). It is still a truly friendly event, many of us remember its humble beginnings, with staff keeping a low profile but always available when/if required.  If a problem should occur, the organisers are quick to respond and sort out any difficulty quietly and with the speed of heroes of the super variety. In general, games players are mostly polite and friendly, not geeky and nerdish like the press tend to paint us, we just like to have fun. On a personal level I am unable to attend Spiel or GenCon now and so events like UKGE are important to me and I am pretty sure to most (if not all) disabled gamers in the UK, so it's great to have such an amazing weekend available to us in the UK.  

 

Artist & Designer: Silk (Devir) 
As you view - Illustrator Roc Espinet (left) Designer Luis Ranedo (right)

 

These two 'comedians' were merrily signing copies of their latest game 'SILK' for publishers DEVIR on the Devir/Thames & Kosmos high profile stand. In fact throughout UKGE you could find developers, designers and illustrators all cheerfully doing their best to ensure games players went home doubly happy - with new games to play that bear personal messages from the creators.

Players from all over the West (and many also from the East) met up and locked horns with games players from all over the East (though mainly from the West) from gunfighting using playing cards to going to war using tabletop miniatures that arrive in the box to you as pieces of grey plastic in need of assembly and meet the table and the public as beautiful works of art.

 

Pegasus Spiel of Germany are mainstays of this excellent event.

 

Games Workshop's famous game 'Talisman' takes on a new route to fame and fantasy.

 

One company had a replica UBoat cutaway showing the internal workings of the underwater craft whilst a young French lady, Parise Jean-Baptiste, under the JBL brand spent all weekend explaining PARTNERS, the best - selling game in Denmark (apparently one in three households have a copy).

Upstairs in Hall 2 all manner of tabletop competitions were taking place alongside numerous international exhibitors. About one-third of Hall 2 is given over to frantic card shuffling and dealing and UKGE / Independent organised play (aka OP).

 

In Hall 2 there are many rows where small independent games folks are looking for their chance to shine. Experience says that a number of these companies will sadly fold before next UKGE while others will be back bigger and better and with either a successful Kickstarter behind them and/or another new game or two as their portfolio builds.

 

Many new games caught my eyes (I wish they wouldn't use sharp boxes) but so did many 'older' games (and their new expansions) which were also amongst the star games of the show. On display only was ARES TRIPODS & TRIPLANES, a miniature game so many of us have been excitedly awaiting for some time now.

It was great to see BoardgameGuru back up and running, though there were many players who missed the annual 'sell-out' that used to occur at this stand. Highly placed on the top of the excitement pole came the news from YAY! Games that they had captured the 'rights' to produce a game featuring the wonderful fairy-tale creature the GRUFFALO. Andrew Harman has gathered an ensemble of family game designers together to bring this amazing children's favourite to the tabletop in all its glory and it is due in the UK autumn; it is being launched directly into local game stores.

 

If you can only make it to one games show a year then please seriously consider the amazing UKGE. It is a long weekend of games playing that need not cost you an arm and/or leg. If you are on a tight budget and driving to UKGE keep away from the £200.00 a night IBIS and look for AirBnB or smaller hotel/motel which will cost you in the region of £40.00-£50.00 a night for a comfortable room. UKGE can help you out with details about local places to stay. In fact UKGE organisers do a heck of a lot to ensure visitors to their event find exactly what they need at an affordable price.

   

Nightfall Games: Mr 'SLA Industries' Jared Earle 
I hadn't realised it until just now but there appears to be someone looking over the shoulders of Jared and another Nightfall Games staff member - maybe that's why Nightfall's stand is in the 'Od Market'

Haven't seen Jared for many years but we have had some raucous and interesting debates on Facebook. He has just released a new book for his remarkably popular and successful SLA INDUSTRIES role-playing game system. This will be great to hear for former SLA Players and fans of Jared's creative genius.

 

Outside the Halls: Bear Grylls Adventure (inside & out)

On Sunday afternoon as we left UKGE for another year the rain fell lightly over the massive NEC building/s and people were still defying danger and death (okay that's a mite dramatic) on the odd shaped climbing apparatus next to the Arena where the Bear Grylls Experience is currently housed. 

Thank you UKGE organisers for another super year and wonderful event. All things being good I hope to see you again next year, same time, same place. 

Rumour
The buzz around UKGE was that next year's show will see even more of the massive NEC put to use as additional growth is inevitable. There appears to be a new hotel going up right next to the NEC though I have no idea when it will actually be  completed. Whether this new hotel will help UKGE and ComicCon and other events depends on not only when it is finished and open but also the cost of its rooms. As events grow so does the need for local rooms so if you are planning to be at UKGE next year it's now a good time to start perusing local sleep-over establishments.                

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015