Monday, June 4

Back in the UKGE

Yesterday I attended the UK Games Expo for the first time since 2009. I attended the first three UK Games Expos in 2007, '08 and '09 as an exhibitor with Reiver Games selling Border Reivers, It's Alive! (first and second editions) and finally Carpe Astra and Sumeria. I also exhibited at Spiel in Essen in 2008 & '09. Until yesterday I'd not been back to a large games convention, just attending Beer and Pretzels a few times with my friend Terry.

In the year I last attended there were 1,800 unique attendees and 2,500 total attendees (where one person came on several days). This year those figures were approximately 21,700 and 39,000 - a growth of 12-15 times over the last nine years and 30% up on last year (again!). It's now huge and feels very different to how it did back in the day.

One of the reasons I've not attended for the last eight years is that I am not a target punter for this at all. I don't buy a lot of games - my collection hovers around 100 games, and each year I give a few away and buy a few more - usually things I've played several times and really enjoy. I am not a Cultist of the New, most of my games collection is 5+ years old and has been played tens (or even hundreds!) of times. So a big trade show where you can buy the latest games is not pitched at me at all.

I ended up just going for the day on Sunday, adding another 400 miles of driving (Newcastle to York on Saturday night to stay the night with my FlickFleet co-designer and long-time playtester and friend Paul) and then York to Birmingham and Birmingham back to York with Paul a brief snack and toilet stop at Paul's and then back to Newcastle. This was on top of a week that I'd driven 750 miles with the whole family (including notably a five year old and a one year old). It was a lot of driving. But totally worth it!

I've mentioned already that I don't buy many games, but I did buy three:

My UK Games Expo 2018 HaulMy UK Games Expo 2018 Haul

I've been looking for Santorini for a while (I think it was out of print at Christmas), so when I saw it on the Games Lore stand I snapped it up (after a brief chat with Paul, the boss who I know of old) despite the fact I've never played it. I also bought the Crime and Punishment expansion for Firefly (more stories and misbehaving cards!) and Fuji Flush (which Paul brought up last time he visited and we played a lot). Total spend just under £50.

The main thing I got from the Expo was a chance to catch up with old friends: Games Lore, Surprised Stare Games, Ragnar Brothers, Steve and Nabil from Travelling Man (who picked up another 12 copies of Zombology on Sale or Return for the other three stores - the Newcastle store has already sold four copies). Plus Brett Gilbert (designer of Elysium, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, and a bunch of other cool games). I also ran into the aforementioned Terry and our mutual friend Graham, who I'd not seen for quite a while (I missed Beer and Pretzels this and last year).

I also got to meet numerous internet friends for the first time: Matt Dunstan and Rob Harper from Playtest UK, Robin Bates from Coaching for Geeks, Heinze & Rachel from Semi-Coop and Chisel. It's nice to meet people for real!

The morning was spent wandering round chatting to people carting round a very heavy bag containing everything I needed for my seminar and some stock in case anyone wanted some afterwards. I was very happy to put it down before my seminar, and as soon as it was over I ran it back to the car, just taking a few copies of Zombology just in case (as it turns out it was too few, I had to go back to the car to get more for Travelling Man!).

In the middle of the day I had my Made by Hand seminar where I had intended to live craft a copy of Zombology. It takes me 42 minutes when I'm focussing on it, which I thought was doable in an hour, but then I found out I only had 50 minutes. So instead I offered the audience (only eight people, including Terry and Paul) the choice of that or more talk and definitely not finishing it. They chose the latter. As it turns out that was very wise. I wittered on and ended up with the box half-finished with only ten minutes left! I quickly did a bit about the cards and then wrapped up with a rather lacklustre 'anyone want a copy' sales pitch. I sold one, and then got a twitter DM from someone apologising for missing it and asking to meet up to buy a copy, so two in total (plus the 12 to Travelling Man on Sale or Return, so I came home with 6 of the 12 I took). Sales were disappointing, but pretty good considering the small audience (lots of whom already owned it!). The seminar was well-received and several people were taking lots of notes, so I must have done something right! The biggest wrong was joking about 'are there any first-aiders in the audience?' and then cutting myself with my knife. Things to remember for next time: black jeans hide the bloodstains!

There were a few things that surprised me. Most notably the number of stands that were just demoing a game that was on (or coming soon to) Kickstarter. I hadn't considered attending without a decent pile of stock to sell - to just write off the several hundred pounds cost of attending (booth, travel, hotel, food, etc.) as a marketing expense when you could be selling games to cover the costs didn't even occur to me. There were also lots of stands that were selling non-games (gaming tables, dice, dice bags, soap, dice towers and box inserts, etc.). Finally, probably the weirdest thing of all was that in the seven hours I was there I didn't play any games. The reason why I prefer Beer and Pretzels as a punter is that there I spend the whole time gaming with chums (mostly Terry) and very little time wandering around/schmoozing.

As a punter, one day was definitely enough for me. Hopefully next year (assuming our Kickstarter is successful and I've fulfilled it ahead of the Expo) I'll be back for all three days as an exhibitor again!

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