Friday, 24 June 2016

UK Games Expo 2016.

The 3rd to the 5th of June this year was UK Games Expo 2016 at the Birmingham NEC.

Living in London, Birmingham seemed a long way to go for a convention. My friend Richard though, who had gone to the 2014 and 2015 shows, really wanted me to join him, and after his enthusiastic descriptions of the shenanigans to be had there, I was sold. Without much persuasion, I was also able to rope our friend Alex in.

Richard was to stay at a campsite with his dad and step-mum, 10 minutes drive from the convention centre. That left Alex and I to find our accommodation. Using the wonderful resource that is the internet, I first looked at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole where the gaming sessions were to take place. That was well out of my and Alex's price range. Looking at the map, I saw that there was a Travelodge near by, so I took a look at their website. Still pretty pricey. Then on the map, I spotted a Premier Inn. A twin room there for a night would cost us only £35. The Travelodge would be nearly three times as expensive and the Hilton, which would be the most convenient, was more than four times the cost. It turned out the Premier Inn was modernly furnished, clean and comfortable, and the staff were friendly and helpful. If I had one complaint about it, it was that Lenny Henry wasn't there to check us in personally.

Using the Expo's website, we were able to pre-book our activities for the long weekend. For the Friday, we booked places in the Star Trek Attack Wing National Championship during the day, followed by a roleplaying session that night. Saturday, in the day, we were to play in  the DreadBall European Open Championship, followed again by a roleplaying session at night. Sunday, we kept free for a wander around the trade hall and a chance to pick up any last minute bargains.

Alex and I arrived at our hotel on the Thursday afternoon. We both had a good meal there before heading to the Hilton to meet Richard and another friend, Chris, who were playing in one of the convention rooms which had been set aside for open gaming. Unfortunately, due to the rather expensive parking charges at the Hilton, I was only able to pop in and say hello before Alex and I headed back to the Premier Inn.

Friday though was when the real fun began.
Alex and I decided to walk to the Hilton and the trade hall, which was located next to it. It only took us about 30 minutes, so soon we had picked up our packs of tickets for the weekend.

One of the first things that I did was have a look at the bring and buy. A chance to get some bargains I thought. I got a bit carried away and soon had purchased three games. Here's a pic of them. Ignore for now, Waste Knights (more on that later).

Sushi Go! was to be a present for my friend Dave who, having played it at our Wednesday night boardgames club Isleworth Boardgamers (find our Boardgame Geek page here), fell in love with it. It was to be his Christmas present. I ended up giving it to him a week after I got back from the Expo as I was worried that he might go out and buy it before December. I told him this and he replied that he might well have done so. Here's the Boardgame Geek page for it. I payed £10.50 for it, brand new and still shrink-wrapped. I assumed that, as it was on the bring and buy, it would be a good price. However, looking around the trade hall on the Sunday, I found it on a stall for 50p less!
A Duel Betwixt Us just looked fun. A game of dueling Victorian Gentlemen for two players. I managed to pick it up for £15. Here is the BGG page for it.
And Spartacus. A Gale Force Nine (they're the people who made it) representative enthused to myself, Alex and Dave about it at a Dragonmeet a couple of years ago. It looked like the sort of game I'd really enjoy and I'd wanted to buy it since. It was there for £5 less that it's RRP of £25, so I grabbed it. Here's the BGG link to its page.

So the first of the planned games. The Star Trek Attack Wing Nationals. A tournament of battling starships. Less said about my performance in this the better I think. I thought I'd try something new. I took some advice from Alex and, with his help, put together a fleet consisting of two heavy hitters with a support ship that would provide a "buff" to them. It went pretty badly for me. Out of the players that stayed to the end of the tournament (two people quit for various reasons), I came second from last. Richard did better than me, Alex even better, but Chris made it to the final four playoffs. He ended up coming third overall. Popular in the tournament were mines and fighters. I even took two sets of mines for the first time ever. Fighters, which in my opinion, were the most overpowered "ships" in the game, are now a lot less survivable due to a fair amount of anti-fighter cards that came with the blind booster ships from the recent Wizkids Organised Play events. I was able to employ some Ferengi anti-fighter technology to great effect in one of my games.

After this, it was time for some lunch and a rest. Then on to our first roleplaying session of the weekend. Agents Of D.I.C.E. (think agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), using the Squadron U.K. rules. (Here is the game's R.P.G. Geek entry.) When choosing our roleplaying sessions, Richard had asked me to select ones with fairly easy to pick up rules as his dad, a non-roleplayer, would be joining he, Alex and myself. I read up a bit on Squadron U.K. before booking our roleplaying tickets and thought that it would suit. Unfortunately, Richard's dad had hurt his back setting up camp where they were staying and, thus, was unable to join us. We asked Chris if he would like the ticket and he accepted.
The game was great fun. A mysterious trail led us to the base of a shapeshifting alien in an abandoned London underground station. Our G.M., Kevin, used the terrain of the station brilliantly. Alex's character(s) died twice, sort of. Using his telepathic powers, he reached out with his mind into the beast's, which with its dying breath (it had been shot and hit by hand grenade explosions a fair bit), pushed its consciousness into Alex's characters body and attempted to make its escape. Alex, now playing the alien, exited the station and made it to one of the vehicles outside. However, our heroes caught up to him and were able to finish him off.

The final battle was brought even more to life with a map, miniatures and terrain elements. This is a picture of what went down. Yup, the big gorilla thing is the alien's true form.

Saturday saw Richard, Alex and I playing in the DreadBall European Open. I hadn't played DreadBall for about a year and not in a tournament for about three so was feeling rather rusty and hoping I could remember the rules.
For the games, each player was allowed a basic team from one of the rulebooks plus 20 million credits of extras - M.V.P.'s, coaching, dice, cards, skills and extra players. Both Richard and I chose Corporation teams with the set up from the Season 2 book plus an extra Guard and one card. Alex took his Veer-Myn (giant anthropormorphic space rats to you and me or "my Ratties" to Alex) plus the Most Valuable Player, Reek Rolat A.K.A. "Payback".
My first game was against a Mechanite team. These robots had along with them, the M.V.P., Grak, who beat the tar out of my team. This, along with the good stats and many skills of the 'bots, lead to me getting a landslide defeat. I also partially blame my terrible dice luck for the entirety of this match. My guys got in the strike zones a couple of times only to miss. Not that I want to take any credit away from my opponent, he was good. My second game was against a lady who I'd played at the first Mantic Bowl a few years ago. She was also running a Corporation team using the build from the Season 2 book. After all the turns of the game had been exhausted, I came out ahead, but not by much. My dice luck had changed half way through this match. My third game was against an Orx And Goblin team. While the greenskins surrounded my players and busied themselves eating them (okay, so the DreadBall rules don't actually allow a player to eat another but when my guys were taken off as casualties for the rest of the game, it seemed right for the narrative that they had been eaten), the strike zones were left open enough for me to score and gain a landslide victory. My fourth game saw my Corporation players up against a bunch of Convicts. The degenerates beat my guys but not by a landslide. My opponent had terrible dice luck but prevailed.
With two defeats and two victories, I finished about midway down the table, beating Alex and Richard. Alex, before this tournament had only ever played three games of DreadBall and, in this competition had achieved his first ever win. I was surprised that Richard didn't do better than me though as I generally think that he is a better player. All players got an art print signed by Ronnie Renton, the main man behind Mantic (the company that produces DreadBall), and an exclusive M.V.P. model. The runner up also got a trophy, while the tournament winner, also got a trophy and the pitch that he won his final game of the competition on. I also got something extra. I was awarded the most sporting award.
Here's a picture of my certificate.

Saturday night was time for another roleplaying session. This time G.U.R.P.S. Steampunk. G.U.R.P.S. is an acronym that stands for General Universal Role-Playing System. It is produced by Steve Jackson (the American one) Games. Here's the R.P.G. Geek link for the G.U.R.P.S. family of games. It turned out that our Games Master was none other than Phil Masters who had written G.U.R.P.S. Discworld. He knows his G.U.R.P.S..
We each were given a choice of 250 point characters to play. 250 points in G.U.R.P.S. character creation will give you a very capable character with good skills and abilities. I played a "reformed" master cat-burgler who had been coerced into working for Her Majesty's Government in return for not going to prison.
After tangling with some clockwork cyborgs, our adventure lead us to a tiny island off of the coast of Scotland where we uncovered an arms-dealing conspiracy and foul alchemical experimentation. It was all immense fun.

On Sunday, it was time to look round the trade hall. It was a bit overwhelming, with many many traders and participation games.
I was interested in a game called Waste Knights (You can see a picture of the side of the box in the second picture in this post. I said I'd get back to it.). It is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Alex and I got a run-through of the rules of the basic game which has players competing to complete missions to score points that will count towards victory. Unfortunately we only had enough time to have one turn each at it as I had to run off and grab any unsold items that, earlier in the weekend, I had put on the bring and buy, plus any money that I had made. The taster I had of the game though was enough. I was sold on it and I bought a copy. Here's its B.G.G. profile and the official website for the game.
I had put six blind booster Star Trek Attack Wing ships plus one prize ship (all doubles to me) on the bring and buy. Unfortunately, I only managed to sell one, Borg Scout Cube 255. The bring and buy at Expo is all run with an electronic point of sales system. You have to log your items in via the Expo website. I had failed to do this before I left home but was able to use Richard's tablet, on the Friday night, to do so. When you take your items to the bring and buy, you get a sticker with a bar code to put on each one. The stickers cost £1 for every ten (rounding up) and ten percent of the money that is taken for the items sold goes to charity. (I'm unsure if the ticket money also goes to charity or if it just covers costs). On the way out I bumped into one of the guys that had quit the Star Trek Attack Wing National on the Friday. He had, in his hands, his unsold, second hand copy of the Terminator Genisys starter set. Now, if you've read the post previous to this one on this blog, you'll know that I gave quite an unfavourable review to that game. However at this year's Salute, I found a great deal for it. The fact that I like a bargain and the theme (I love the first two films) won me over. I haven't played it again since Dragonmeet but having now read the full rules, it seems a better game than I gave it credit for. Anyway, the owner of the unsold starter set made me an offer. He would trade it to me for three of my unsold blind boosters. That worked for me. We both came away happy.

After the trade hall closed, Richard, Alex and I went for some lunch. The food that the Hilton was selling was, as you might expect from a Hilton, pretty pricey. However, for the convention, in the Hilton's car park, there were a number of tents selling all sorts of world foods. I'm a pretty fussy eater, but I found some of the dishes to my tastes. While I ate pizza, Richard and Alex proceeded to play Star Realms. (B.G.G. page here.) Richard has the ap and has logged several hours of play on it. He had now just bought the base set and as many expansions as he could find. They got through their first game, but during their second, we were told by a manager that the hotel was not allowing games to be played in the bar areas. Okay, fine, so we left the bar and moved to one of the rooms that had been set aside for gaming. We'll have a few hours in here we thought. Unfortunately, the hotel had decided that, come 5pm, they would close these rooms. "Once their [the Hilton's] cash cow's gone, they're not interested!" said Alex at one point. It really did feel like that.

Our taste for gaming not satisfied though we headed to the campsite that Richard had been staying at. It was a lovely site and we sat outside, moving into his dad's caravan only when it got pretty cold. All in all, Richard, his dad, step-mum, Alex and I must have played about 5 hours of Cards Against Humanity. (Here's its B.G.G. page.)

The Expo was great fun and I definitely plan to attend next year. I might even do better in the Star Trek Attack Wing National if it's held there again. Then maybe I won't.

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