The UK Games Expo is the largest hobby games convention in the United Kingdom. It covers all types of hobby games, including board games, card games, RPGs, war games and many, many more. After a break of a couple of years, I was finally ready to make my way up to the NEC, Birmingham again in 2022. However, this time, a friend from my games group joined me. I was really looking forward to finally meeting many of the people I only knew via social media. I also wanted to introduce myself to some of the publishers exhibiting there. My schedule was really full. It was going to be exhausting, but also a huge amount of fun.
The last UK Games Expo I attended was 2019. It was an amazing event and I came back from it buzzing, full of ideas and the energy you get after you’ve been able to catch up with good friends again. We all know what happened soon after the 2019 event. So when UKGE came back as an in-person event in 2021, I decided to give it a miss. However, now it’s 2022 I’m ready to dive into the crowds again and meet lovely board game people at UK Games Expo 2022.
My last board game convention was Airecon 2020 and it was the last event of its kind in the UK – and as it turned out, there wasn’t going to be another in-person UK board game convention until 2021. It was a wonderful event, even though everything felt weird. Nobody was sure whether to shake hands or not. The special guests who had flown in from the USA weren’t even sure if they would be able to get back home. Luckily, they did make it back safely and it wasn’t long until the UK went into full lockdown. So, I was keenly looking forward to Airecon 2022, the first board game convention I was happy to attend after a two-year break.
So, the convention season for 2020 has drawn to a close, and it’s obviously been a very different set of experiences compared to The Before Times. The last show I actually physically attended was AireCon back in spring, and even that was under the shadow of the then-upcoming nationwide lockdown in the UK, a last hurrah before we all spent the summer indoors. Since then, many and various show organisers have done their damnedest to pivot and transform their events into an online format, all with varying degrees of success. And frankly, despite their best efforts, no single event has managed to get close to the real deal. Lessons have been learned, of course, and if things continue as they seem to be on track to do, Year Two of the Online Convention will invariably be better – but what would I like to see from them?
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.