UK Games Expo
By Martin Tideswell
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this was the year that UKGamesExpo went from being that skinny lad who everyone either ignored or pushed around at school and became a man. With a swagger and a Charisma of 17. And tattoos. Measuring it in terms of attendees, the eighth UKGE was a huge success. Initial estimates say 6,000 unique visitors and an overall attendance of 9,919 over the whole weekend. This 10k attendance figure (well, near as damn it) puts it well and truly on the map alongside established conventions overseas. Enormous credit for the growing popularity of the event must go to the organisers who have more than filled the void left by the demise of Gen Con UK.
UKGE is now bigger than Gen Con was here in Britain and looks set for exponential growth in the coming years. What’s perhaps most impressive is that UKGE isn’t simply the preserve of large, bearded men with a beer gut and questionable personal hygiene – it appeals to all ages and backgrounds as well as both sexes. Families too are well catered for within the ‘Family Zone’. My girls, aged seven and nine, along with their pal Nathaniel, enjoyed a taster game of the Pathfinder RPG called ‘Goblin Attack’, entered their designs for a drawing competition, and rolled huge dice around on the massive Castle Panic game.
The proliferation of yellow t-shirted helpers around the convention is always reassuring (even if some of them appeared to know less than we did about the venue and the availability or otherwise of refreshments). I’m an RPGer, pure and simple, and was well catered for thanks to the mighty John Dodd who oversaw an impressive 285 slots of role-playing – each looking after five or six players. However, I also took the time to visit all areas of the convention – from the historical miniatures zone to the large hall hosting the Warhammer 40k tournament in which my pal Josh was competing.
From RPGs to boardgames, from LARPing to war games, from demo games to freebies – UKGE has something for every gamer of all ages, including a number of interesting seminars and Q&As with gaming industry experts and key guests such as Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie and Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone of Games Workshop and Fighting Fantasy books fame. As has become the norm at any convention worth the name, the cosplay and costumed groups were out in force. The Tardis took pride of place in the foyer of the NEC Hilton hotel, surrounded by a mish-mash of fantasy and sci-fi icons ranging from Daleks to Imperial Storm Troopers, Judges from the 2000AD Dredd universe, Batman, Catwoman and my personal favourite – Captain America.
My friends and I arrived at the venue early on day one. Our tickets were waiting for us at 8.30am and by 10am, having enjoyed a coffee and browsed through the programme, we were sitting down to play our first RPG – a DnD Next adventure. Day one of UKGE, minus the traders and filled with real hardcore gamers like yours truly, is a far more civilised affair than the following day (Saturday) when it seemed the world and his dog were walking the halls, queuing for the charity bring ‘n buy, or crammed into one of the three impressive trade halls. If I’m honest, Saturday is when the venue – a large hotel with swimming pool, spa and numerous dining and refreshment options – seems altogether too small for the convention.
It was hot. Darned hot and sweaty in certain areas of the hotel. The queues in the lounge bar and coffee shop were at times as bad, if not worse, than those for the trade hall and bring ‘n buy. Certain areas of the hotel ran out of cold drinks at times and it seemed like the air con was on strike. It’s not so bad if you’re a hardened convention-goer, equipped with a rucksack and little else – or if you have a room at the venue to retreat to. However, for anyone with children – like our group of 12 – then it became hard work. We resorted to eating lunch on a grassed area in the middle of the car park, which wasn’t ideal.
These are small gripes, in the scheme of things, but I heard plenty of moans and groans among attendees so I’m sure the organisers will be taking note. To be fair, they’re good at that sort of thing (being gamers themselves) and they’re the first to acknowledge that the growing success of the convention presents them with a huge learning curve for which they deserve our loyalty and patience.
It certainly does my heart glad to see so many people ‘open gaming’ in bars and ante-rooms at all hours of the day and night. Ours is a hobby that seems to be shaking off its nerdy tag and becoming more mainstream with each passing year and UKGE is certainly playing its part in this transformation.
In my opinion, UKGE has outgrown the NEC Hilton – its second home – and will soon be looking for a new, larger base. My gang had a lot of fun. I personally played five RPGs – one of which was eminently forgettable and one of which (the Cthulhu Masters tournament) was spectacularly good – thanks to the players and an excellent GM. Next year, God-willing, I’ll run a D&D tournament. It’s high time I gave something back, having benefited from the generosity and time of many volunteers and GMs over the years.
Make no mistake, UKGE is becoming a real force to be reckoned with.
Next stop: Gen Con Indy…
Author: Martin Tideswell is a married, 42-year-old father of two who comes from Stoke-on-Trent, England. He’s been a journalist since 1989 and a Dungeons and Dragons fanatic for more than 30 years after being hooked by the UK adventure The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. He has written extensively for the Pathfinder RPG system under the banner of Raging Swan Press. A winner of the D&D Red Steel tournament at Gen Con UK, he was also a finalist in the D&D UK Open Championships. Martin also won the Cthulhu Masters Tournament at Gen Con Indy in 2012 during his first visit to the States and was a finalist in the inaugural Cthulhu Masters UK tournament a year later. He is now wondering how he and his family are going to survive Gen Con Indy this August… now that he doesn’t have his Yoda and room mate from two years ago – Roleplayers Chronicle head honcho Aaron Huss – to guide him.