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Diary of a First-Time Designer #13 – EXPOnential Growth (Part Two)

First-Time Designer Issue 13 - EXPOnential Growth Part Two

Join me on my continuing multi-part series as Martin and I attempt to turn our jumble of half-conceived brain sparks into our first fully functioning board game.

Part 13 – EXPOnential Growth (Part Two)

The UK Games Expo has grown in tandem with the hobby itself. Now occupying two whole National Exhibition Centre halls, it has come far from its humble beginnings in a small hotel. There is plenty to get involved in, including live shows, auctions, seminars, bridge simulators and cosplay.

Vendor-wise it’s not just about board games, of course. Many companies have seen the opportunity to promote the products so often linked to geek culture including t-shirts, jewellery, game pimpage, storage solutions, battle gear, apps, comics and art.

There were certainly plenty of tabletop games but I wouldn’t say I was particularly in the market for one. I’d reached this zen-like plateau where I was perfectly happy with my current stash and there hadn’t been anything that had peaked my interest beyond future expansions to games I already owned. I bought a couple of games purely because it felt like a waste not to at least buy ‘something’; Road Hog, which I’d seen reviewed on the Gaming Knights channel and The Master’s Trials, a re-imaging of Dice City, which I’d demoed last year. I also demoed a few games but nothing that piqued my interest.

For me it was mostly about seeing friends, along with enjoying their company during the evening open gaming. We played my copy of Viticulture or, as I am trying to coin, Vituscany. I really do love that game and its one I can’t ever imagine selling.

Sunday was my first opportunity to play-test LAST STAND in front of Expo punters. I’d worked really hard on the latest prototype in the week, having made changes from the last play-test group. It felt in really good shape with a decent board and pretty solid systems alongside starter, reference and power cards. I’d spent hours the previous day on it; drawing out the board so it looked respectable.

The guys at Play-test UK were very welcoming and supportive. They had the unenviable task of approaching members of the public and inviting them to play incomplete games. Still, I was surprised at how willing people were to take part as the Expo offered plenty more for them to do.

I also felt somewhat of a duty to take part in other people’s prototypes and, before my allocated time slot, enjoyed an economic game and a jousting game. I took reassurance that the latter had been in development for over three years, suggesting again that Martin and I had come a very long way in a short period of time.

After, it was time to find my table and set-up as I became aware of my usual adrenaline spike being surfed by my nervous excitement. It was not long before I welcomed some punters and I tried to get a hold of my nerves by focusing on being an affable host while explaining the rules. We had time for two groups of three, including none other than Mike Nudd, designer of Waggle Dance and the upcoming Dice Hospital (for which I was a backer).

Unsurprisingly, Mike provided me with some great feedback and ideas for development. First was the idea that players have a working, albeit basic, Titan (mech) from the start. They would then have lots of interesting choices to make about what upgrades to purchase. Secondly, he recommended some sort of market where open purchases could be made. Other suggestions were a travel mechanic, variety in body parts to purchase and pilot cards. There was certainly a lot to consider but I believed there were things that needed to be implemented.

Following the second play-test, it was time to rapidly pack up. I’d been so focused on the game that I’d become oblivious to the fact that the Expo was shutting down around me.

I hastily left and found my car. It was a great weekend and I’d felt like I’d accomplished what I needed to: educated myself on game design, generated ideas on how to improve LAST STAND, spent time with friends, played some demos, bought some games and noted future purchases.

However, I couldn’t shake this feeling that maybe the Expo had run its course. I enjoyed myself for sure and there was something to be said for the growth of both the hobby and the UK Games Expo itself. It has become clear to me that local hotels have not let this go unnoticed and we have seen a rise in the room prices each year. As I write this now the Hilton are charging over £200 for a two night stay.

For the first time, I am considering not going next year. I feel I’ve done all that I wanted to in the four consecutive years I’ve been, with each time having a different agenda. Saying that, if I do go, maybe next year will be much more LAST STAND focused. Perhaps I’ll get involved with the publisher speed dating. Maybe I’ll be demoing it. Who knows!

It had certainly been a lot of hard work getting to this point and making sure we were ready for the Expo. I felt we deserved a break.

Next time in the First-Time Designer Series - Holibots