So, you’ve arrived. You’re stood in the NEC looking up at that big UK Games Expo banner and you’re about to cross the threshold into what is easily the biggest event on the UK board gaming calendar. There may be a lot of questions running through your mind. What is there to do? Where do you start? How am I going to fit it all in? Well, dear reader and boardgame adventurer, I’m here to be your guide. I’ll pop on my best hat and try not to do you wrong! I think this will be my 5th or 6th time at expo this year, so I like to think I know a thing or two.
The first thing to do is grab a program. These are free and contain a very useful map as well as a few previews of what you can expect to find at the expo. You’ll be able to find your favourite exhibitors as well as see all of the events happening over the weekend. This is your source of truth for the expo and should never leave your side!
In terms of things to do let’s start with the obvious thing. The main exhibit halls. In terms of square footage, this is the main event. Here you will find a mix of big publishers, stores and small indie developers who will have a variety of things to show off or sell you. All of the biggies tend to be in the main hall. Personally, I like to scope this out fairly early so I can see what games they are demoing and make a plan on when I will swing back to try and grab a table.
The people demoing are all good people. They’ll get you up and running on a game and can help you with any rules questions you may have. One thing to bear in mind is that you’re not guaranteed to get a full game at a publisher stand. They will sometimes have a little scenario for you to play through to get the gist and move you on. It’s not necessarily a terrible thing either, because there is lots to see!
Outside of the big publishers, you’ll also find a lot of independent outlets selling smaller bits and pieces. There are all manner of board gaming accessories for sale, including the ultimate accessory: A board game table. There are also loads of smaller publishers selling and demoing their games. It’s definitely worth checking them out as there are some absolute gems to be found. One of my favourite games from last year, Magnate: the First City, was a UKGE find. For you RPG lovers you’ll find minis to up your role playing experience, posh dice and dice bags. There is something tabletop-related for everyone here and if your heart desires, you’ll probably find it.
You’ve also got the stores. Zatu will of course be representing the best of the hobby with games for sale as well as a bunch of us bloggers demoing various games for you to try. Make sure to stop by and say hello! Shopping at the expo is a big part of the experience but if you’re worried about lugging your various purchases about there is the fantastic Shop and Drop facilities offered by the organisers. You can basically hire a big old shelf and store as much stuff as you can fit on there. With the caveat being that you’ve got to clear it all off at the end of the day. That said, they also offer a shipping service where you can fill a box and have it shipped to you. This can be a lifesaver, especially if you’ve come on the train.
By this time, you may be a little bit hungry. There is generally a variety of food on offer all over the place. Normally there are some food trucks as well as a few sandwich and burger places dotted about the place. It’s not the main event but I definitely missed the food trucks not being there last year and I’m looking forward to their return this year.
These are the bits of the show that people spend the most time at. But there is a lot more to be seen and done. Off the beaten track you’ll find the events. There are tournaments for the sort of games you’d expect, various collectable card games, as well as a few you wouldn’t, Catan, Ticket to Ride and Great Western Trail. These cost a few quid to join but if you want to play one of these games in a tournament setting, this a great chance. You can see a full list of games as well as sign up through the UKGE website.
There are also some RPGs available to try. They are mostly beginner-friendly, and I believe you’ll get a DM provided for your game. I’ve never tried one of these so don’t quote me on that though. Again, it’s a few quid to sign up and there are a lot of different systems and settings available. So, if it’s something you’ve always wanted to try, this is a nice friendly environment to give it a try.
Then there are the bigger and more bespoke events. This year the starship simulator is back. This is a sort of escape room where you and your plucky crew will be trying to survive some sort of calamity in space. It is basically Space Alert turned up to 11. These are a lot of fun and I’d recommend it if you get the chance, but they do book up fast. Then there is the big daddy itself, the mega-game. These things are huge and I’ve never had the chance to try one, but I’d love to give it a try one day. I’ve watched the videos Shut Up & Sit Down have done covering a few of these and they look incredible.
There are also various board game related comedy and musical shows throughout the weekend. Some of the bigger YouTubers will also have their own shows though I’ve not seen any on the schedule at the moment, so that may not be happening this year.
Then as the show floor starts winding down, it is a good idea to head on over to the free play area. Here you can grab a table and pull out any games you’ve bought and give them a go. You’ve also got a massive library of games that you can sign up to play. The open gaming area is open all day but it’s pretty much the only thing that is open late into the evening.
Those are the main beats of the show but there are still a few things I’ve not covered here like the Bring & Buy, Cosplay events, and the UK Games Expo awards. There is plenty to see and do over the weekend. Like I said earlier, that program is essential and will really help you plan out your visit. Whatever you do, just make sure you have fun. It’s impossible to see it all so I wouldn’t even try. Just make sure you take breaks, stay hydrated and make sure to come by and see us over on the Zatu Games stand.
Have a great time!