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.”
The list of tasks a game designer has open at any one point in time can be very long and it is constantly evolving. Designing a game is a long journey, even for the simplest of games. It can be a battle between what’s good for the game and what the game designer wants the game to be. It comes with a lot of changes, some of them very painful, some of them creating the long-needed breakthrough that breaks an impasse. Elements get added, others get taken out until eventually, the final product bears little resemblance to the notes that were scribbled on a piece of paper when the designer had an initial idea.
We all play games for different reasons, and we all approach them differently. In fact, we may play the same game differently on two different days, just because we’re in a different mood. However, I’m not talking about playing a different strategy or choosing a different character or even just playing with a different player colour. I’m talking about something different altogether.
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.
I am very lucky to have a group of friends who live nearby and who all love playing tabletop games. We meet once a week, more or less, round each other’s houses, taking turns to make sure nobody is the host all the time, bring snacks and drinks, so it doesn’t get too expensive for anyone, and play a game or two, depending on how we feel and what we play. These games nights are very important to me, but not everyone is blessed with this opportunity, so I want to talk about what other options there are.
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.
A lot of games now come with an option to play against an artifical oponent – often called an AI, or automa. Don’t worry though, the AI won’t try to take over the world and enslave humanity. Instead an automa is there to offer the option of an additional player. In fact, some games allow you to add multiple automa, if you so wish. Artificial oponents come in many flavours and often provide different levels of difficulty, allowing you to choose how tough you want your new opponent to be.
Most tabletop games are aimed at three or more players, with possibly a two player variant – and maybe even a solo option. However, more and more games coming out recently are either specifically aimed at two players only, or are designed to be played with two or more players. There is a choice between co-operative and competitive games, anything from light to heavy games and with virtually all types of game mechanisms found in other multi-player games.
Tabletop games can be quite expensive, so it makes sense to protect your investment and make sure game components last a long time. That way, when you have enjoyed your game for a while, you can easily resell it in mint condition, recouping close to the original purchase price, which you can then re-invest in a new 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 like buying tabletop games, you probably have either read or watched reviews or even playthroughs, so you can make a more informed decision about what you want to spend your money on. However, how much information is there actually in reviews – and how much is just opinion? Can we trust some reviews more than others? Are positive reviews more objective than negative ones? So many questions.
When creating a new tabletop game, a large chunk of time is spent on testing. Even very simple games need to be thoroughly tested to ensure they work. Playtesting helps identify whether a game is fun, balanced or swingy, lasts the right amount of time, works with the intended number of players and if there any issues with the rules.
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.
Every tabletop game comes with a rule book. Even the simplest game needs a basic set of rules. More complex games need longer rule books of course, but there comes a point at which a rule book becomes too long and turns people away from the game – and this point will be different for different people.
If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have noticed how game length varies drastically. Some games are specifically designed to last a very short amount of time. In fact, some games include a timer that explicitly limits the length of the game. Other games stretch over hours – or even days, but these are usually split into separate sessions, where you “save” the game and return to it another day.
With the advent of crowd funding sites like Kickstarter, it has become easier to fund a new project – and the tabletop games industry has been overrun by games designers launching their own games with the help of people willing to sponsor their ideas. These days literally anyone can design a new game and try and make it a reality.