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UK Games Expo 2016

UK Games Expo 2016 LogoI was fortunate to be spending this past weekend at the UK Games Expo 2016 – three days of games and gaming people in a huge hall and an entire hotel, all in wonderful summery weather! There were truly too many great things going on to mention them all here, so I’m not going to try; instead, this is a summary of the things that stood out for me and that hopefully will interest you too.

Esdevium Retailer Summit

The day before Expo-proper began, the distributor Esdevium held their annual retailer summit at the NEC. This was an opportunity to talk to Esdevium staff, other retailers and games publishers, and for games companies to tell us what was coming in the future. A highlight for me was talking with Christian Petersen, the Founder and CEO of Fantasy Flight Games, and discussing the role of online retailers in gaming – but that deserves a whole blog post of its own.

The day’s big news was the release of X-Wing Wave IX. As big as the news itself was, it was more significant to me that this was done at Games Expo UK. The X-Wing tournament running at UK Games Expo included 450 players, compared to 251 in the US equivalent; the UK is a truly huge community of gamers, and that’s something we should all be proud of.

Thanks to Esdevium for organising this day; it was great to put some faces to names and voices!

Guildball

Many of my friends had Guildball demonstrated to them last year at UK Games Expo and had raved about it and bought teams. Since then, I’d heard plenty about it and all of it was good. Now, Guildball is definitely not a Shiny game – described to me as “a cross between football and Gangs of New York”, two distinctly un-Shiny activities; I’m never going to stock something that grim, but getting at least a demo was on my bucket list, so this is one of the first things I did on Friday.

A wonderfully painted Guildball Masons team
A wonderfully painted Guildball Masons team

My first experience of Guildball was a bit confusing – I didn’t really understand what I was doing, or what Momentum was, but I just went with it and was choosing from alternative suggestions that I was given. The basic mechanics of kicking a ball around are very nice, and I saw enough to know that this is a good game that I’ll enjoy playing. However, it feels like there’s quite a learning curve there and it’ll take some time and effort to get into the game. The miniatures for Guildball are truly beautiful, and if ever there was a game where it would be a crime to paint them myself then this is it, but I’m going to have to persevere and make sure I give this a good try in 2016.

Burrows & Badgers

Michael Lovejoy from Oathsworn Miniatures at his demo table
Michael Lovejoy from Oathsworn Miniatures at his demo table

At the other end of the demonstration scale, I got the Expo’s first demo of Burrows and Badgers by Oathsworn Miniatures. This is a ‘Mordheim-style’ campaign skirmish game with anthropomorphic animals, set in the fantasy world of Northymbra. As a big fan of Mice & Mystics and Tail Feathers I was keen to give this a try.

As a complete contrast to Guildball, this was a very quick game to pick up. I was having fun from the outset, rather than worrying about what I was supposed to be doing, and felt I could make sensible tactical choices based on what I knew. By the end of the demo I felt I could almost take someone else through the same demo – definitely an easy game to learn but with plenty to look forward to when creating your own warband and taking them through a campaign.

Burrows and Badgers hasn’t been out long and the rulebook and miniatures are only available direct from Oathsworn Miniatures – in fact, you can get a free PDF of the rulebook from the game’s website. This is definitely a game I hope to be stocking in the future.

Royalist Warband by Ruin
The Royalist Warband beside an old ruin – what treasures are there to be found?

The miniatures are beautiful, as you can see from the picture of the demo warband above. They are cast in pewter as single pieces (other than the plastic base which you’d need to glue them to), so they’re perfect for both younger gamers that lack construction skills and more mature ones that lack the time and/or focus. At £20 for a six-figure faction starter pack which gives you a full warband, or individual members starting from £2.50 if you’d rather pick your own, its a very affordable game to play.

The background for Burrows and Badgers is evocative without there being too much to read up-front. I came away from Day 1 of the Expo with a rulebook to read up on the setting of Northymbra and pick a faction to purchase on Day 2. Luckily, the necessary information was quick to digest – the King is missing and the loyal Royalists are beset by Rogues, Freebeasts from within and Wildbeasts from without.  I love that Northymbra is based on the North-East of England I grew up in, with obvious changes that give hints of what you might find there; Corbridge has become Cawbridge, for example. I went with the Royalists in the end, and Rogues as a second faction; I suspect that the Royalists may prove to be an extremely popular choice, at least until more background information emerges from the other faction’s perspectives.

Relics

The other miniatures game exhibited at Expo I really liked was Relics by Tor Gaming. I had been vaguely aware of it beforehand, but didn’t know much about it. Many gamers have probably seen the ‘stitchpunk’ Britanan Troopers that seem to be Relics’ poster boys, but might not know what else there is to the game.

Relics Britanan firing line
Relics: A Britanan firing line on the Expo demo table

Seeing the full range of factions in the display case sold me on Relics immediately. While undead sack cloth puppet soldiers are disturbingly adorable, putting them in tartan is unbearably cute! While the Britanans are a favourite, the other factions also have great miniatures and I’d expect most gamers would find at least one faction to suit their tastes.

Bretanan Highlanders
Bretanan Highlanders

I was offered a demo game and hastily agreed, hoping that the expectations set by the miniatures line weren’t going to be let down by a bad or pedestrian rules set. Relics did not disappoint! The core mechanic involves rolling doubles on six sided dice, with advantageous conditions giving you more dice. The game was clearly tactical but moved well and I love the idea that you don’t need to roll high to do well.

While the backstory of Relics is undeniably on the grim side, its impossible to say no to these factions fighting it out on the tabletop – Relics is an extremely Shiny game!

Ridend Kapolop Knights
Ridend Kapolop Knights

I ended up leaving with an army of Chivalrous Goblin chicken riders (or Ridend Kapolop Knights to give them their proper title) rather than Britanans. The concept that goblins are actually the good guys in this game and exceptionally honourable is an example of how Relics plays with traditional fantasy concepts and turns them inside out in an extremely refreshing way. And if you think the knights make great miniatures you should see the ladies!

Overall Relics looks and plays great and I can’t wait to get my first proper game with my own army. It’s a game that certainly deserves to be better known than it is, and with the Version 2 rules currently in open Beta hopefully it will be soon. A real surprise find for me at UK Games Expo 2016!

Ninja All-Stars

Ninja Division - Ninja All-Stars
The Ninja Division team demo of Ninja All-Stars

I knew the Ninja Division guys demonstrating Ninja All-Stars at the Esdevium stand from the Relic Knights community, so I stopped in on them on more than one occasion to see what they were getting up to.  I got an early demo of Ninja All-Stars, which was a really fun miniature board game.

You play a team of Chibi (extra cute anime style) Ninja competing in a tournament of ninja skill for the Moon Princess. There are several different scenarios but we played Capture the Medal – trying to get your team’s medal from the middle of the board while preventing your opponent(s) from doing the same. The ninja run and sneak all over the place, and you have several specialists such as a fast ninja and archer as well as your hero which suit different parts of the task. This is a great game that is easy to start playing but feels like it has a lot of play in it. With eight different challenges, a double-sided board offering two very different tournament grounds and a league system that allow your ninja to gain skills and experience as they play, there’s a lot to do in this game.

I’ve already had one more game since the weekend and we’re now stocking this at Shiny Games – the main game is available now, while the add-ons will be up in the web store by the end of this week.

ArcWorlde

I hadn’t expect to see ArcWorlde at the UK Games Expo, but perched on the end of another stand beside some SLA Shivers was the display table for Battle for Troll Bridge. This is Warploque Miniatures’ new four player introductory game for ArcWorlde and presented a very impressive demo board. The boxed set includes the troll Old Grogg and three other starter forces – Albionnican humans, Halflings and Bayourks – who all come together at Grogg’s bridge home to do battle.

I’ve not had opportunity to play this yet, but as my Kickstarter box was waiting for me on Saturday night I don’t think it’ll take too long for that to happen. The miniatures are very unique and while they have a certain Discworld quality about them, its fair to say that Alex Huntley, ArcWorlde’s creator, has a unique style all of his own.

Kudos to Alex too for actually sculpting models for his next release at the back of the stand while talking to attendees – it was great to see him at work! I expect Shiny Games will be stocking ArcWorlde in not too distant future, but for now Warploque has an excellent online store of their own where you can get these.

Relic Knights

Swordsworn face off against Diamond Corps
Swordsworn face off against Diamond Corps – both need to pass the other by to succeed, but you know it won’t be that simple.

Unfortunately, there was no Relic Knights presence at UK Games Expo – a large part of why in hindsight I regret not exhibiting myself. I was however able to arrange a game in the Open Gaming area and face my Shattered Sword Paladins off against a group of ruthless Black Diamond mercenaries.

It was a really good game and the perfect way to end a day at the Expo. We didn’t finish the game, mainly due to all the people coming up and talking to us about it, which really improved the experience even more.

It was really great to talk to people about a game I love, especially when they were also enthusiastic to find out more. Mentioning it always brought up a favourable response from anyone who knew about it, so we’ll definitely be arranging for plenty of Relic Knights to be taking place at UK Games Expo 2017.

UK Games Expo 2016 Summary

There was so much more to UK Games Expo than the things I’ve mentioned here. This isn’t really even a summary of my own experiences, just a few high points and surprise discoveries that only really happen when you get so many games players in one place.

I’ve hardly mentioned the many tournaments taking place, nor the wonderful food available, nor the majority of the people I met or caught up with. But I hope the bits of UK Games Expo I’ve chosen to relate here are parts you find interesting and maybe even useful. Let me know in the comments below if there are any games mentioned here you play or intend to try out.