In mid-February I went to my first ever board game expo with my brother, City of Games 2019 in Bristol. I keep referring to myself as a newly rediscovered board gamer but I’ve been immersed in the golden age of board gaming for over three years now, so it was probably about time that I went to an expo!
Due to work commitments, my brother and I couldn’t make it on the Friday so we made sure we arrived nice and early on Saturday morning. As we took the elevator up to the top floor of the Future Inn we began chatting to a guy who was playtesting his own game design at the Expo – I was already familiar with the Firefly-esque space adventure game, Defection, through Twitter but it was great to speak to the designer and hear that he was in the final stages of putting the game together.
When we got to the welcome desk we were both handed our IDs and a little bag which contained a complimentary copy of City of Games’ latest game, Vadoran Gardens – a lovely and unexpected touch!
All about the games!
My brother’s entire game group was in attendance (he is a Bristol local), so there were familiar faces from the very first moment. A friend of my brother was running the expo shop and was keen to show us Illusion – Wolfgang Warsch’s follow-up to The Mind where you’re guessing which card has the most of a certain colour in it – it was a nice filler game and a fitting way to ease me into the expo.
While playing Illusion I had noticed a familiar face on the demo table – it was Paul Grogan from the Gaming Rules! YouTube channel – before the show I had booked my brother and I onto a session to learn Trapwords – it was a decent word game with a good attempt at a fantasy theme, but I wouldn’t say it’s quite in the same league as Codenames and Decrypto in that respect. I played the dexterity game, The Climbers, before asking fellow Zatu writer Louis (who I’d noticed sitting at a table) for a game of Architects of the West Kingdom.
After a late lunch I reconvened with my brother’s games group for a six-player game of Kiwetin. It’s a whimsical game where you’re racing to get your chipmunk-like creature to the top of the tree first – I ended up winning but found the whole experience entirely unsatisfying as the game felt way too random.
Kiwetin and a Cold War
A bit of advice I’d give for when you go to an expo is that time is limited and precious, therefore you should not feel obliged to get stuck playing something if you feel it’s wasting your time. After Kiwetin I was coerced into playing Quartermaster General Cold War with my brother’s games group, but after a while of feeling totally bored and realising that the game had hours to run I asked if we could find a replacement for me so I could leave. I was honest and told them that this was my first ever expo and I didn’t want to spend my valuable time playing a game that I was hating more with every minute.
I then went into the main games area and ended up being introduced to the fantastic Bärenpark with a few strangers and then ran into an old friend who invited me to play Wingspan (a month before its official release). I’m so glad I made that decision. And funnily enough my brother appeared while I was mid-game and said they’d abandoned Quartermaster General because no one was enjoying it!
Before the expo I had jokingly said I would avoid Wingspan but in the event I really enjoyed it!
After a lovely pizza I taught my brother and two strangers the wonderful Raiders of the North Sea (after playing it at my own games group three days earlier) – we had a three-way tie for second place! As the expo was coming to a close for a day my brother and I picked up the beautiful Santorini and had a quick game of it. I didn’t like it as much as I had expected, but the game went by very quickly.
Another Day in Paradise
Saturday evening consisted of a beer and watching The Running Man before waking up nice and early on Sunday for another day of gaming. I wandered up and down the aisles of people already unboxing games and noticed three lads reading the rules of my favourite game, Terraforming Mars. None of them had played it before and they were grateful when I offered to teach them – needless to say I won, but they all really enjoyed the experience.
I found my brother’s games group in time to play the hidden identity game, Red Scare, in which I spent about 40 minutes wearing red-shaded glasses which messed with my vision! Not great for me considering I was scheduled to take part in the City of Games Dobble Championship immediately afterwards. Needless to say I got eliminated in my first round match, coming joint-last of seven participants. My brother also got knocked-out in his first round match. I’m not using the Red Scare sight as an excuse though because I have a habit of freezing during games of Dobble
We then played a 4-player game of Tokyo Highway – an absolutely stunning dexterity game but if you knock anything over you have to return it to its original state, which late in the game is nigh-on impossible, even with the supplied tweezers! I then taught my brother and his friend Azul, which I fully expected to win given my extensive experience, but was shocked by my brother’s friend.
Finally, with the end of the show nearing my brother’s games group got together for an eight-player game of The Resistance: Avalon. I was on the “good guys” team and in the end I had to make the call on the final expedition in a win-or-lose decision. I ended up remembering that somehow my brother is somehow always on the side of evil in these games and I made the winning decision! A great way to end the expo!
Leaving City of Games
I’d say my gaming highlights of The City of Games were playing old favourites (Terraforming Mars and Raiders of the North Sea) and experiencing the new (Wingspan and Bärenpark). My overall general highlight was just being somewhere with like minded people, also known as board game addicts!
A nice little footnote: As I was walking to the train station I caught up with two guys who were talking about Viticulture – it turns out they were board game celebrities Efka from the No Pun Included YouTube channel and Ross from More Games Please, board game photographer and interviewer – I promised them both that I would play my copy of Viticulture soon – something I’m sorry to say hasn’t happened at the time of writing this! I ended up sitting with Ross for part of my rail journey, who had lots of inspiring and intriguing things to say about the board games industry – I wish I didn’t have to change trains!
I now can’t wait to attend the big one, the UK Games Expo at the NEC in Birmingham later this month as a Zatu volunteer. I’ll be demoing games for them on stand 1-916 – feel free to come by, try a game and say hi!