Me and one of my favourite ever Germans, Mr Ulrich Blennemann, chew the fat:
(Uli is very quiet - uncharacteristically - in this one)
Here's fun: how many times do I side-eye my live 'room next door' stream from Dominic Cummings?
I do miss my European friends so very much.
Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Dad, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer, Agricola fanboy and jealous admirer of Carl Chudyk. www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk
Archive for UK Games Expo
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So, the UK Games Expo 2020 has (finally) been cancelled. Of course, with one of the founders being a General Practitioner, you'd think the 'board' knows best...the second time of asking, at least.
Many things shall be missed and the eager public must wait 12 further months before they can sample the game-y delights of:
1. The bring-and-buy may be missed by some; I mean where else can go to find
a) second-hand games at retail prices;
b) Kickstarter 'bundles' for double the pledge level because "I changed my mind during the fulfillment period / I want someone else to have a chance of getting a copy / I need to make pure profit out of some FOMO twat" (delete as applicable) - please note that hire of the fork lift trolley is extra to cart the crap out of the Halls;
c) something that a child called 'Robin' scribbled in biro on, and scuffed the corners of, in 1972 and is now - apparently - worthy of a 'Vintage/Antique' mark-up; and,
d) enough copies of The Works discounted material to build a life-size replica of Leeds Castle out of.
2. The obscene prices for an 'artisan deli sandwich' (seagrass and mud falafel, Broiled Essex Ham on Wheated Crack, "Vegan Cheese" ie. packing cardboard from the Hall 4 skip etc) and a thimbleful of fizzy 'spring' water.
3. The cannot-be-found-elsewhere 'Mother and Son' companies and their mortgaged brainpan outporings: "My Auntie Likes This: The Card Game", "Everyone Still Loves Monopoly Spin-Offs, Right?!" and "Trivia Games Deserve A Re-Evaluation". If you're really lucky, you might bump into an old guy who used to work for Waddingtons in the 1980s and has a loft-emptied pallet of two player abstracts to hawk - mainly Nine Mens' Morris knock-offs, though.
4. Bumping in to famous media types as they amble - ve-ery slowly up-and-down all of the aisles looking for something in particular (Shangri-La, probably) but 'happy to stop for a chat and a selfie' every three yards; and,
5. Watching the receipt for three nights in a bland air-conditioned box spool off the printer with something four-figured at the bottom.
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Well that's about it for my (as Tony) relationship with the UK Games Expo. They did entirely what everyone else is doing in these troubled times and moved the event from end-of-May to end-of-August. Unfortunately, for me at least (and SSG mainly), the hotel won't re-book my place accordingly. That's unreasonable, you might say BUT I did book the rooms on the last day of the 2019 show with a 'no cancellation refund' policy.
"OMG Tony, why did you do that?!?!?!"
Because the scalping fuckers at the Ibis chain - advertising rooms 'from £99 per night' on the departure day in 2019 wanted to charge me £1200 for two rooms in 2020 with the cancellation option; instead, I plumped for the £850 option which came with the 'ha-ha! no get-outs!' clause: "Why not?", I thought; "If, for some reason, I can't go I could offer the room to someone who might need it instead!".
Naturally, that was back in the halcyon, optimistic, pre-Brexit (when there was still hope), pre-Boris Johnson, pre-failed-impeachment, pre-Coronavirus maelstrom days.
I tried, of course, to appeal to the hotel's better nature: I didn't want a refund, I just wanted to move the booking to August...of course, anyone who thinks it will go ahead in August will have jumped on-line to secure the first places. They won't have been cheap but the scraps that are left will be even less so...unless you fancy taking a punt on a 'no cancellation' option?
I can hardly blame all of this on the UKGE, though, can I?
Well, they've sat happily by and watched the Hilton Metropol hike its prices year-on-year, lost/given up the option for Exhibitors to get some kind of discount (we used to get one in the early days) and, generally, sat back with the air of 'not our problem, mate'. The one year we couldn't stay at the Hilton (after doing so every time before) was because they were sold out to punters first - no block set aside for those of us who were still 'taking down and loading the vans'; we ended up in the Premier Inn - a mile away across an unlit expanse of car parks - and paid the same amount. The accommodation arrangements are, for exhibitors, a fucking joke; to be frank, if I wasn't an exhibitor then there's nothing about the UKGE that makes it worth me paying that much of my own money for now. Not a thing.
I'd rather save my cash for Leiriacon (now properly cancelled) - which costs less for everything (flights, parking, car hire, fuel, tolls, hotel & food) than just three nights (all meals are extra) at the bloody Ibis Styles - AND, of course, Essen Spiel.
We had a good run, the UKGE and me, but we've gone from excited co-conspirators in a noble evangelising project to being an income line in their booking spreadsheet with no strings attached. I quite liked those strings, in the old days; they meant we all felt connected.
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- My friend told me that it was a lot cheaper to go to the UK Games Expo if I volunteered; he said that I would need a hi-visibility vest and my own lanyard but, in return, I’d get a free room and as many Keyforge decks as I could eat. The pre-show Stewards’ conference gave us a list of the type of things to watch out for; things that could prove dangerous to visitors and/or damaging to the organisers’ reputation eg. offensive roleplaying scenarios, public displays of enjoyment and/or refusing to pay £4 for a bottle of water. I was assigned to Hall 2 where my responsibilities included kicking litter in to the corners, walking away from people in the middle of their questions and stopping stand staff from coming back in when they’d gone to the van to restock. My manager had to keep nipping off to hand in more pre-filled ‘Peoples’ Vote’ slips, so it was up to me to slow down the queues for coffee by ordering 20 Turmeric lattes at a time and then paying with a card that kept being refused; someone tutted so hard they lost a front tooth. On Friday, I was allowed to close off the Bring-and-Buy saying that there was a Suspect Package: we destroyed eight copies of Subdivision and a mint Gloomhaven that afternoon; my manager laughed so hard as he was doing it that he needed a Man Nappy. There was a football match on the Saturday evening, so my job was to send all the board gamers away from the Bar area saying “It’s reserved for the Football fans, I’m afraid.” and also send all the Football fans away saying “It’s reserved for the Board Gamers, sorry.”. We had the whole place to ourselves for two hours; there was a smashing view of the car park from the leather sofas. I was allowed to take time off for a couple of the Podcast records over the weekend, so took my Seat Riser and my Cosplay ‘Cat In The Hat’ hat to the Toute Suite in time for Sit The Fuck Down and Shut The Fuck Up!, Vascillating with Vasel, The Dice Shower and No Penis Included. The Free Play area was open 24 hours, so I was sent in to the Game Library to alternately hide the most popular checkout items under the desk; our new IT guy had rewritten the code to show everything was being checked-in between 5 and 50 minutes late, regardless – at 50p a pop for fines, we had enough for half a pint of the Artisan Beer, between us, by 0100HRS. I was very, very tired on the Sunday - irritable and drifting off constantly - so they put me on the UKGE Merch stand where I could have a nap whenever I wanted; someone blogged that it was the longest queue for tee-shirts that they’d ever seen – my manager was on cigarette burn-hole/mislabel the sizes duty for a bit, which was nice. Overall it was a very enjoyable weekend.
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It's cold and gloomy in Newent today; my mood, despite a healthy breakfast and a generous first cup o' java, is quickly heading the way of the weather; even Ziggy the dog, usually as bouncy as a Tigger played at x1.5 speed, rests his scruffy chin on the chair arm and sighs. I'm languishing not so much with the FOMO ("Fear of Missing Out") as the IAMO ("I actually missed out").
Despite being in one of the closest hotels to the UK Games Expo - with (allegedly) many of the exhibitors and celebs - there was never anyone I recognized in the Hotel Bar area for open gaming in the evenings.
I couldn't make it to any of the seminars/podcast records except the Who Dares Rolls one and that was seriously in danger of the panelists and crew outnumbering the audience - indeed, I had sort-of hoped that The Dice Tower episode immediately afterwards might have spurred some folks to join our event to ensure they had the best seats; as it transpired, we actually had a couple walk out after five minutes because the language got awfully fruity, awfully quickly...and, for once, I was trying to be the sensible one in the room: fail to prepare then prepare to fail.
At a show debuting our new product we were only allowed 50% of the copies to sell and saw several retailers - who were bunged the other 50% - undercut our prices: this led to some internet grumbling that I was somehow scalping the public. And some tosser tried to profit by putting his copy in the bring-and-buy.
I've seen a number of videos and photo albums of the weekend and none of them mention Surprised Stare Games at all - not even in passing; this continues quite a melancholy trend of our little enterprise - 20 years in the biz and every-year-ever exhibitors at the show - finding it hard to get arrested (except by our good pals who have blogs, vlogs and pods).
The much-vaunted Cup Final Football beer-fest and shout-a-thon (Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur) turned out to be a squib so damp you'd think you were watching it with Sebastian the fucking Lobster and Flounder the pissing fish*.
Despite the hundreds of reviewers and content providers mingling with the great unwashed, we saw barely a handful stop by at the stand (though I did see more scuttle by ne'er making eye-contact). On ground that couldn't be any more 'home', it's depressing to feel so isolated. Not for the first time in the last few years, I am questioning the worth of being there at all.
Next year we're planning to release at least two games and like to launch in our own Country's biggest do if at all possible; right now, however, the black clouds spattering the Library room window with fat drops and my pessimistic mood pressing my temples like a too-small hat, I think "What's the bloody point?" and that I'd rather hold off until Spiel 2020 instead.
We'd also save nearly £1300 on the cost of the hotel alone.
*there's a CBeebies pitch right there
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A calm final day without controversy or complaint; with the crowds significantly smaller than yesterday, it was less of a squeeze getting about. I managed to sneak off for a couple of design meetings and, when Arthur arrived, for some lunch and a browsy wander. With his anorak and rucksack, Arthur was equipped for - and happy to - solo exploration which made feel even older still.
The first Foothills of the day: relief! (I squeaked a win by 2 points - 42.5 to 40.5)
From the creators of Ice Cool comes the two-floor Iron Forest; no-one on the Stand actually knew the rules for this prototype!
And now to the Obligatory Haul Shots(TM); see anything you like?
The 'take down' was super-quick and we were able to get the car to the NEC door within 30 mins - apparently the NEC have abandoned last year's appalling 90 minute delay queuing system in favour of the simpler "Just let us get close, at least, and we'll do the bloody rest thanks". Arthur and I trundled the trolley around the scenic Hilton ring-road to Car Park E1 and we were soon a-Motorway, scoffing gummy sweets and listening to Radio One: another notch on the meeple, another cross in the calendar window of conventions: next stop Essen Spiele and I think we're going to need a bigger
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It's late; I'm tired and I've had a refreshing quantity of Guinness. Today (Friday) was a pot pourri of selling (Foothills is sold out, so is the stock of Ivor's I'd brought); demos of Attention All Shipping; bring-and-buying (sold almost all my stuff, bought Trade on the Tigris, Turin Market, Citadels and Islebound); recorded the Who Dares Rolls podcast and played a nice selection of diversions in the Ibis Styles bar.
My lids are heavy, so here's a selection of pics:
AFFLICTION: Salem 1692: Worker placement and witchcraft - a drunken hoot
We glugged ale in to early Saturday (today) with Too Many Cooks and Modern Art before retiring. Two more days to go and yet I feel like I've lived through a whole convention already: exhausting.
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I was supposed to be away with the lark first thing but things didn't pan out the way I'd originally expected so I was pulling up at the NEC car-park in the hot sunshine of midday. There was a brief hiatus while we waited for the site staff to process some fiddly little bits of paper and then we were being streamed in to the Halls to unload. I - in the manner of many past and, no doubt, many to come - was done in a matter of minutes and then took the car around to the hotel to check in. A leisurely amble through the industrial units and back alleys of the NEC landed me at the arse-end of Hall 2 where I watched them slow rising of the Keyforge launch thing: lots of tables, banners and posed monster stuff. Meh.
With every little fiddly, niggly job and administrative obligation already put to bed, I had the rest of the day to myself: no stress, no timetable - just wandering; so I wandered over to the Asmodee Stock Area and picked up 60 copies of Foothills:
Alan and Charlie were still a couple of three hours away from turning up, so I wandered amongst the shrink-wrapped pallets, the flattened cardboard and the spongy mats in search of good people and goodies: Gil Hova, Michael Fox (II), Iraklis from Ludicreations, Brett J. Gilbert, H. P. Gibson & Sons and many more.
The day meandered on, my tummy rumbled and my wallet ached at lack of food/exercise (respectively); I was scorned by an elderly Expo admin person for having the temerity to not receive a particular email (I never got it), I was frowned upon for not having any interest in the evening's planned Press schmooze event: all I wanted to do was find some food and some beer and settle in for the evening.
There was some waiting around to do, so I taught Alan and Charlie how to play Foothills (Alan beat me by 15 points):
It is always a tingle to see a design become a physical reality: unpunching and bagging, shuffling and stacking, setting up and playing and game-end scoring. Ben joins us today (Friday) in eager demo mode though I still think he's missing just how bloody cool it is to be working with Lookout Games.
Back to the hotel for a slap-up supper and beers; the Ibis Styles seems somewhat over-run with septuagenarian couples - is this a retro 1970s GILF swinger convention OR, perhaps, a Brexit Party Gammon Whist Drive? Either way, you couldn't breathe for surgical supports and cardigans.
Here we go, indeed.
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As this pops up on your RSS feeds (ooh, how 1990s), I'll be thrumming up the M50/M5/M42 to the NEC for 2019's UK Games Expo: Lord love us!
For demos and for recreation (John Company and Off the Rails)
I'll be picking up 60 copies of Foothills from Asmodee UK (though another 60 or so copies will be available from other retailers, apparently?!) plus some shiny reviewer copies of Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea. I've got an order in for some stuff from pal Jimmy and the bring-and-buy awaits my fiscal pleasure - talking of which:
I have rough plans for the in-and-around of the show BUT COME AND SAY HELLO, why don't you?!
Day time: Asmodee Retailer Event plus stand set-up plus fetch Foothills plus drop-off B&B stuff plus check in at the Ibis Styles NEC; games in the bar in the evening, probably - looking for someone to teach me Root? Hoping for a John Company with Maddox, Uli B & whomever else wants a fucking marvellous time! Meet up with my French Alubari chums? Hoping to pick up mine and Arthur's KS copy of Miremarsh.
'The Stand' whereupon to meet Ben Bateson and give him his Pass; demo & sell Foothills (him), Attention All Shipping for me. Maybe sneak in to the Bring 'n Buy before the Hell descends upon it. Meet up with my German Lookout Games pal! Maybe the Who Dares Rolls podcast record at 5PM (Tout Suite) - hopefully more than 10 people will turn up this year? More games in the evening at the Ibis.
'The Stand' plus a wander plus spending some dosh on precious things; chinny-wagging with whomever and generally Lording it about. I may get the irresistable urge to grab a coffee and hide in a dark corner for a couple of hours. We're all off the Genting Arena Sports Bar in the evening to watch the Liverpool match: there shall be much howling, cheering and beering - it will be aces!
'The Stand' plus more wandering; more demos and chinny-waggery. Arthur and Mrs B will join us later and Arty will be helping me pack for the journey home - Father and Son in a reprise of our 2018 Essen Spiel adventures!
And then it will be over and there's work on Monday morning.
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