The first time I attended UK Games Expo (UKGE) I didn’t really know what to expect. I had visions of an E3 type affair with excited publishers on stage, whipping up hype for their upcoming games. Maybe a tonne of bargain priced games or exclusive promos.logo for UK games expo This was not, and is not, the case, but was I disappointed with what I did find? … No. UKGE, for me is a chance to spend time with friends, to try out games before you buy and generally have fun. Yes you’ll be largely paying online prices for stuff, but you’re not paying postage fees and I guarantee you’ll see something  you won’t have stumbled across otherwise. Plus, there are bargains to be had.

Each year, like a much loved terrapin (probably named after a TMNT member), the UKGE has to grown to fit whatever space is given to it and is all the stronger for it. Even the vast hotel could no longer contain it. So this year, it’s 10th anniversary year, it has had another step change and moved into the humongous NEC 1. The trade hall is massively bigger… but is it better?…

I have, as I write this, only attended Day one (Friday) of this year’s UKGE, so the big event is still to happen. These are simply my first thoughts.

I’m going to get the negative out of the way first. Although the UKGE is much bigger again this year, it somehow manages to feel smaller –  this could actually be a carnival mirror effect and actually be a good thing. It may stem from having the extra freedom of movement in the trade hall as the wider walkways aren’t as shoulder to shoulder as in previous years. I don’t hit people with my camera bag so often and our senses aren’t assaulted by the more fragrant members of our fraternity .. at all in fact. The ceiling, being so far off that clouds may form below it, also helps. However, this also means some of the frenetic energy, the buzz has dissipated a little as well. Having said that, the noise level, even today, is impressive, so there is certainly plenty of enthusiasm.

Not everything has moved to the NEC – the tournament play, Role Playing Games and Food Festival are all still at the Hilton Metropole. Along with the new addition of a starship simulator! Even though this is mere minutes walk away, it has interrupted the fluidity of the day. Normally I would transition between the trade halls and open gaming at a whim depending on who wondered along. The slightly disjointed nature means some spontaneity is lost. As the trade hall closes at 5pm and all visitors are removed, many people simply left rather that going to the open gaming in the hotel to play their new acquisitions. There is also a break in service from the stunningly massive Thirsty Meeples games library whilst it is forced to relocate.

The advantages of scale are numerous though! Picking up our lanyards was the fastest I’ve experienced at UKGE. The massive open space is far more accessible, many more mainstream groups and families seemed to be attending this year, really opening up the hobby to an ever expanding audience.

The stalls were able to spread their wares much more effectively. Geek n Son, instead of being crammed in a corner, had multiple gorgeous pieces to show for instance. There is even a double-decker bus from Wotan Games in the hall which doesn’t even look out of place. The family zone, which is always incredibly popular has been able to expand. There are also more giant versions of popular games – which are always fun to see.

Another HUGE improvement is having the seminar room within the trade hall as it means it was much easier to find and, importantly less confusing program of events. A couple of years ago I manged to get a photo of a confused Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Thunderbirds, etc) trying to figure out which room he was in to give his excellent talk. Now they are all in one simple location with an easy entrance and exit system. Although the amplified talks do add to the general noise!

It could well be that this year the NEC jumper that the UKGEs parents bought it, might be just a little too big for it – however, I’m very certain that it will grow into this too.

I had my camera around my neck, which had a timer to take a photo every 10 minutes. The resulting video is a hint of my Day 1 at UKGE 2016 which included a few games and a couple of seminars. Keep an eye out for a single shot of the prototype of CGEs hotly anticipated Codenames: Pictures!