It feels like a long time ago now, but thinking back to AireCon, which took place last month, still puts a smile on my face. It meant a long car journey for me, travelling over five hours from the South Coast all the way up to Harrogate in deepest Yorkshire. I started early, around 6am, on the Friday, because I was aiming to get there by lunchtime. I wanted to see a few people who were going to be there – one of my wonderful Patreon supporters, a game designer who I got chatting to on Twitter and who was demoing his new game at the event, a more established game designer who I was hoping to arrange an interview with, as well as the board game “celebrities” who had made their way from across the pond. It was going to be busy.
We all love to play board games. We each have our favourite genres, themes and mechanisms, and ultimately our favourite games. Over time our favourites change of course, as new games come out and we get a chance to play them. Yet, when we play a board game, we don’t usually think about how this game came into being in the first place. Chances are we know the designer of the game. In fact, we might have chosen the game because we like other games by the same designer. Yet, very few will have any inkling of the hard work the designer has put into taking a spark of an idea and turning it into a working game. In the film The Games Designers written and directed by Eric Rayl, Mike Selinker phrases it really well: “Board game design is hard, like, I mean, real hard.”
In recent years, there seems to have been a surge in board game events in the UK, where people come together for a day or two to play games with old friends and new. I’m thinking of events like AireCon, Manorcon or Tabletop Scotland, but there are many more. These events are different to expos, like the UK Games Expo, which do have open play or tournaments, but whose main focus is on exhibitors showing off their products. What I want to talk about here are more like festivals, where the focus is on playing, and exhibitors, seminars and other activities are secondary – and I want to look at AireCon in particular.
I thought it might be time to give everyone an update of where I’m at with the blog, the podcast, videos and everything else I do in the industry. After all, we’re nearing the end of the year and everyone is starting to reflect on what they have achieved. However, there will be a separate article on my blog talking about what happened in 2019 in the industry in general and with regards to my work specifically, so here I focus on what is involved in producing the content for my various outlets and give you a behind-the-scenes look of what I do.
I’m sure, many of you are tired of hearing all about Essen Spiel 2019. Everyone who went is talking about all the games they saw, played and bought, and anyone who didn’t go is reading about all the games everyone saw, played and bought. So I want to talk about the people side of the exhibition and share my experiences of attending this major event for the first time.
It’s that time of the year again. The huge Essen Spiel game fair is upon us, so as is custom, here is my list of games that will be at the exhibition and that I’m looking forward to.
Travelling to games night, weighed down with a giant bag full of games isn’t easy. I appreciate that many people have a car and use that to get to games night, and that makes sense, especially if you travel a bit further. However, if your friends live only a short while away, then going by bike would be another, and possibly better, option. Yet, a lot of bikes aren’t really designed to carry much. Yes, you could get panniers, but they’re not ideal. However, these days there are a lot of utility orientated bicycles available from your local bike shop, or you can go one better and get a custom-built bike that is not only up to the task of ferrying around bulky loads, like board games, but is also made exactly how you want it.
It is always nice to get some positive feedback for the work you do, so winning awards is even more satisfying, especially if you receive one of the many prestigious awards from the industry you work in. So far, the Tabletop Games Blog hasn’t won any awards, but in this article I am not fishing for praise, but I want to look at the many board game awards that are run every year and show how winning an award affects the popularity of a game, what costs may be attached with some awards and what the different awards try to achieve within the industry.
Unless you’re a very outgoing person or working in marketing, you will probably not want to boast about your achievements, or maybe not even see what you do as worth mentioning at all. In fact, you might hate the idea that everyone expects that you constantly post photos and write updates about every little thing that happens in your life. I can see where you’re coming from, and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re a game designer, publisher or a press person, you will need to try and be somehow present, even if that feels alien.
There are a lot of great things happening in the tabletop game community, which is great and for a lot of us, playing games is about meeting new people, having fun and sharing a hobby. Yet, growing the community and showing people, who have never heard about board games, what it is that we all love about playing them, is a different thing and often seen as something that is up to boardgame cafes, tabletop evangelists or game publishers’ marketing teams to achieve. However, we all can do something to grow the hobby and share with more people the joy of playing games.
It was around this time last year that I came back from my first visit to a UK tabletop games exhibition, all elated and happy. I had felt welcome and saw a lot of opportunities for the little venture I had in mind at the time. I spoke to a lot of people, looked at a lot of games, bought more than I probably should have and realized that I wanted to work a lot more in this wonderful industry. Of course, I’m talking about UK Games Expo, and I was back again this year, and it was even better – if that’s possible.
As you will know by now, UK Games Expo 2019 is just around the corner – a week on Friday, to be precise. So the question is who you should go and see on your visit – assuming you’ll be there of course. There is no way that I can list all the over 400 exhibitors and their games, or mention all the events, seminars and other things that are going on at this amazing exhibition. However, I can focus on who I’m planning to see, bearing in mind that I’ll only be there on the Sunday. So it’s going to be a jam-packed day, but I just can’t wait.
UK Games Expo 2019 is around the corner now. In just over three weeks, 40,000 or so visitors and over 350 exhibitors will descend on the Birmingham NEC to explore the over 24,000 sqm’s worth of exhibition halls, plus the dozen or so of rooms in the nearby NEC Hilton Hotel and probably other venues. From Friday, 31 May to Sunday, 2 June, the family friendly exhibition celebrates all things tabletop games and offers virtually everyone something of interest. I will be there on the Sunday and can’t wait to see what’s on offer.
I joined the tabletop games industry as a blogger only recently (less than a year ago actually) and my journey really started when I visited UK Games Expo in 2018. I had started to work on a little project that I thought might eventually make it onto Kickstarter, and I felt that by attending the event I could do a little research, maybe get some contacts and generally get a better feel for the tabletop games industry and community. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, because the UK Games Expo is an amazing event, and the whole atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. I would argue that my visit to the expo made up my mind about wanting to do more within this great community – and I knew I had to return for UK Games Expo 2019.
I was recently approached by Chris Anderson to be a judge in The Board Game Workshop Design Contest 2019, and I felt very honoured. After all, I’m not a well known game reviewer, nor am I a famous YouTuber with over 1,000 subscribers. However, the contest is open to anyone who is interested in tabletop games, which I think is really great. Here is a contest that aims to really help the community of designers and bring them together with real people who love playing games. It is these sort of events that we need more of.
It’s a new year and a new exhibition and event season. There are dozens upon dozens of tabletop game exhibitions each year around the world, from the giant, annual, international Essen Spiel, GenCon and UK Games Expo filling many exhibition halls held over several days, to the smallest local events held in a single room and running only for a single day – and of course many sizes of events in between. It’s impossible to attend all of them, even though it would be very tempting. So here are some tips to help you choose which events to consider for yourself.
Tabletop games tend to encourage people to come together and enjoy some time together. Even solo games are often enjoyed in company with other solo players, and then of course you have a number of multiplayer solitaire games, where people play the same game at the same time, but basically everyone does their own thing. There are many way of people playing games together, so let me look at each one briefly in turn.
In my view, the tabletop games community is generally a friendly, welcoming group of people. We seem to know that we are all human beings, and each of us has different skills, experiences, backgrounds, challenges and attitudes. We do our best to ignore stereotypes and prejudices and try to allow anyone join in the fun of escaping to another world, solving difficult puzzles or do whatever constitutes playing a game. Of course, our community isn’t perfect, but I would say the trend is in the right direction. The same is true for modern games, and many designers and publishers are clearly doing what they can to allow more people to join in the fun. There is still more work to be done of course, but again the trend seems to be in the right direction.
The tabletop games industry has been booming for some years now. Back in September 2016, the The Guardian website describes how the Thirsty Meeples cafe in Oxford taps into “[t]he rise and rise of tabletop gaming” (1). In January 2017, the New Statesman website explains “[h]ow board games became a billion-dollar business” (2), and in December 2017 the Financial Review website describes how “the golden age of board games” (3) allows the Draughts game cafe in London to benefit from the popularity of boardgames and how the industry grew over time. Even as recently as April 2018, an article on the Bloomberg website (4) says that board game nights are the latest way to network. So the boom clearly continues, and it has made me wonder if small players, be they game publishers, designers or developers, rules writers, content creators, game cafe owners or games group or exhibiton organizers, still have a role in the industry.
Inspired by Tweets following the recent Essen Spiel 2018 by a fair few people, I thought I write about one of the reasons I love the tabletop games industry: wanting to play a game whenever, wherever. In fact, many of us try and see a game in everyday activities. It is usually not about being competitive, but much more about being playful, having imagination and sharing an experience with other people – or it can be about beating your own best score, whether this is in a competitive, co-operative or solo game.
As an avid tabletop gamer you will know that new games come out all the time, but what is not always clear is how much testing time has gone into creating a new game. There are many things that get tested when a new game is developed, but in this article I want to focus on play testing. In fact, this is my second article on the topic, but I think it is worth writing about it again, because play testing is such a critical and time consuming part of bringing new games to the market. A lot of smaller game designers rely on play tester volunteers to achieve an adequate amount of play testing time. So if you want to play a game that hasn’t been released yet and provide some constructive feedback, then play testing is for you.
If you play in a regular games group, you probably play certain games several times – you may even have one game that is your group’s go-to game. If so, you may have started to record game end totals, so that players can try to beat their own score, or even aim for the group’s high score. You may even start to record more details, such as the factions played, number of rounds or game time. Maybe you also have an end of year awards ceremony, where people in your group with the highest score in each game, or with the most games won overall, get a small prize – or everyone gets a printout of their scores.
If you are interested in any type of tabletop game for pretty much any reason, and you live in the UK, then the UK Games Expo 2018 at the NEC in Birmingham is a must. It’s probably the biggest, and in my opinion best, tabletop games and accessories exhibition in the UK.