UKGE 2017: NEC Birmingham, 2nd & 3rd June 2017
Elaine and I went to UKGE 2017 to meet our friends, Val and Chris. The Friday turned out to be one of ‘those’ days. We got up early, planning to get to Birmingham for doors opening at 11:30 am. I let our dog, Snowy, out in the garden. After 5 minutes he came back in and I noticed his front paw was bleeding. We decided to get the veterinary nurse to check him before taking him to the kennels. It turned out he needed stitches! The vets were excellent and managed to get him back to us 12:30; a bit groggy, with a bandaged leg and lampshade collar. We then dropped him off at the kennels; a place he loves. We know the kennel owner very well and we knew she would look after Snowy perfectly. So, at 13:00 we finally managed to set off. The journey normally takes 90 minutes, but the roads and motorways were snarled-up all the way. We finally arrived at 17:30, only 30 minutes before the hall closed for the day! We met Val and Chris and retired to the Metropole hotel to play some games. We were not staying on site because the NEC was hosting a ‘Take That’ concert and was booked out. We had a hotel about 10 miles away. During the evening it started to rain, but as we made our way back to the car park the sky opened up. We got drenched and roads started to flood! In addition, the ‘Take That’ fans were also leaving, getting equally soaked in their finery; no-one anticipated such a downpour! Getting out of the NEC was a nightmare, and a 15 minute journey took an hour. We finally retired for the night; tired, frustrated with pent-up road-rage, sodden clothes and wreaked shoes. Saturday was a better day, but we did have to leave earlier than planned in order to collect Snowy.
So, what are my thoughts about UKGE2017? Judging from the attendance on Saturday (I cannot comment about the Friday!), I think the visitor numbers were down on last year; it did not feel as crowded and it was easier to wander around (which is a good thing). This may be an illusion, because the show has expanded and moved some of the talks/lectures/competitions into other rooms and locations both in the NEC and Metropole. I also felt that the number of trade stands was also down. All the ‘main traders/producers’ were there, but maybe some of the small ‘peripheral’ traders were missing. We did not visit the B&B section this year (so I cannot comment on it), largely because we were deterred by last years’ experience of long waits and over-crowding once you got in. The addition of a wargaming element to the show seemed rather pointless to me and an unnecessary distraction. If I attended UKGE purely as a wargamer, then I would have been very disappointed. I’m sure there is cross-over between the two gaming genres but there are plenty of dedicated wargame shows already, and I would prefer UKGE to concentrate solely on their core boardgame market. As usual there were plenty of new games on offer, but no obvious block-busters or themes. The range of subjects for new games seemed more diverse than previous years, no dominant theme (zombie, Viking, space etc.), which I think is healthy for the hobby. Because our time at the show was limited we did not play as many demo games as usual; I would have loved to try ‘Kitchen Rush’ (due for release at Essen) and ‘Spice Road’ but both had queues waiting to take part. We did not spend a great deal, just odds and ends, and the only game I bought was ‘Sushi Go, Party’ which had been on my hit-list for a while. In contrast Val and Chris had a couple of bags full and I’m sure we will be trying these out when next visit them. Overall, I enjoyed the show and plan to attend next year, but next time we will hope to stay on-site and possibly travel by train rather than drive!
We did play some games whilst at UKGE:
The first game played was ‘Fresco’, brought by Val and Chris, which is a based around the competitive ‘painting’ of a Renaissance fresco. It is an enjoyable game with a fairly standard worker-placement, Euro-style mechanism. The player order is determined by current score track with the lowest player choosing first. Inevitably, the first couple of players in a turn hog the paint acquisition phase, which can be frustrating for others who face a turn with no additional resources. Instead they are mainly restricted to gaining cash and improving the happiness of their workers in readiness for future turns. This does prevent a player from racing ahead and results in a levelling-out of scores. The result was a tight finish where I surprisingly emerged as the winner, largely due to my large pile of unused cash at the end.
Next Elaine went to Thirsty Meeples and returned with a new game to us, ‘Legacy’. I think we were all a bit daunted by the number of components and the length of the rules! We persevered and actually picked up the rules and objectives fairly quickly. Essentially you are building a family tree over 4 generations; having children, arranging future marriages, benefiting from actual marriages, building up ‘resources’ to meet mission objectives etc. The artwork is nice and there is considerable humour as you arrange for a daughter to marry a cad, or your first son to marry a beefy heiress who lacks looks but brings much needed cash! Elaine’s ‘family’ seemed to have a genetic problem because she drew plenty of ‘birthing problem’ cards, whilst Chris visited the fertility doctor a worrying number of times! Val emerged as the winner. We all enjoyed the game and spent some time at the end examining/joking about our respective family trees. I think we would all happily play again, and I’m sure the flow would speed up and we would make better decisions etc.
On Saturday morning we started by playing ‘Metro’, a tile laying game themed around the 1898 Paris Metro system. The game is essentially a beefed-up version of ‘Tsuro’, with players placing tiles to move their trains towards destinations whilst mucking up other players moves. We already enjoy Tsuro and we really liked the added depths of Metro. Val won. The game is quick and simple, and I suspect this will be a future purchase (possibly for my birthday in August).
Next I encouraged our group to play ‘Sushi Go’ because I had just bought the expanded ‘Party’ version. I am glad to say we all enjoyed the game, which is essentially a card drafting experience with a Sushi theme. The artwork is both crude and cute, and fits well with the Japanese culture theme. A win for Elaine. I’m looking forward to playing ‘Sushi Go, Party’ in future sessions.
We sat down in the Thirsty Meeples zone and attempted to play another new-to-us game, ‘Imperial Settlers’. I had previously seen plenty of other gamers playing this game, so obviously it is popular, and I was looking forward to trying it. Unfortunately we gave up on the experience after 3 or 4 turns. I don’t think any of us were clear about what we were doing or what we were aiming to achieve. Normally we find that things become clearer as a new game progresses, but not with Imperial Settlers, I was as (or more) confused at the premature finish, than I was at the start! I cannot see us returning to this game, but I intend watching a few videos on BGG to see what I might be missing. In the short time remaining we decided to try a Munchkin card game. I’ve never played any of the large Munchkin family of games, and it appears people either like or hate the game. The Cthulhu theme we chose was also unusual for us. We did not finish due to time but we picked up the mechanism fairly well. It did generate some amusing moments but I don’t think we are aggressive enough as players to fully appreciate the mechanisms; you really need to happily stab your fellow gamers in the back to get the most out of Munchkin.
That was our UKGE 2017 experience. We drove back home (only 90 minutes this time!) and collected Snowy, who was much recovered and back to his energetic, exuberant self!