What Is UKGE?
UK Games Expo (UKGE) is tabletop-game convention and trade fair held annually at the National Exhibition Centre and the Hilton in Birmingham. UK Games Expo is the largest Hobby Games Convention in the UK - where all aspects of the gaming hobby are represented under one roof and takes place each year towards the end of spring/early summer. Starting modestly in 2007, it was in 2016 that it moved to the NEC and the rest is history. After the last few years of cancellations and then limited visitor numbers, 2023 sees it back in its fullest of glory.
Getting On Board
Getting back into the board game hobby for me, like many others, was kickstarted a few years ago by the global pandemic. Suddenly being out of work and home all the time gave me the time to explore a hobby I once loved but had lost to the work/life fight. Suddenly, there was a huge world out there with games that I’d never have dreamed of, even in my university days. Board games didn’t only keep me and my family sane through numerous lockdowns but then when my husband and I moved town, it became the way to meet new friends and feel welcome in a strange new place. As a fan of various geeky things, I have spent years attending Comic Cons around the country and meeting with my various tribes and when I found out that there were board game equivalents, I lost my mind! UK Games Expo had been on my watchlist since those early locked down months of Youtube digging but sadly it was not the time for locking ourselvesin a room with tens of thousands of people. But 2023 was the one. It’s quite daunting going to a large-scale convention for the first time. The pure amount of things on offer is incredibly overwhelming, not to mention the cost. But boy am I glad I did it. My brother in law had been before as well as numerous members of my board game club and so I had plenty of brains to pick. The general advice was, don’t plan too much. Just go with the flow as everything will take longer than expected and you don’t want to be tied to anything if other opportunities arise. So, without a plan, I made the leap.
Ticket To Ride (London To Birmingham)
When I arrived at the Birmingham NEC, the first thing I noticed was the size! I had been to large Comic Cons before but this venue seemed gigantic in comparison. There were three halls. One that had ticket collection, the bring and buy and open gaming. The Bring and Buy is exactly what you’d expect. You can check in your games after registering them online but be prepared for huge queues. The Bring and Buy is popular and you might find some amazing deals there but be prepared to sink a large amount of time in there. Also, it is run by volunteers, and prices and games are the sole responsibility of those checking them in so be friendly and patient and hopefully the experience will be rewarding. I sadly didn’t get the time to go in until the Sunday which meant that most of the great deals had gone and so I walked away empty handed. That being said, there were plenty of people still in there on Sunday filling their arms, so it really is a case of one person's trash being another's treasure so go have a look and you might be surprised. The rest of this hall is for open and tournament gaming. Tables and tables of designated areas to play the games you have bought or if you are feeling particularly competitive why not join tournaments of games like Catan or Unmatched. The other two halls are simply filled with exhibitors either selling or demoing games. This is where the magic was for me. The joy of this particular convention is demoing new games. From new designs at the playtesting zone to indie publishers right through to the behemoths, all showcasing their new games. Some you can buy there and then and others are teasing you for games yet to be released. There are also live interviews and panels at the main stage where you can catch talks with designers or some of your favourite Vloggers. I was thrilled to catch two of my favs, No Rolls Barred and Shut Up and Sit Down. At the end of the three days I was exhausted but exhilarated. These kinds of large events aren’t for everyone and it can get pretty claustrophobic, especially on the Saturday, but if you have any interest in the board gaming world and want to immerse yourself in it then I highly recommend trying UKGE at least once. I don’t think you’ll regret it!
Best UKGE Game Experience: Demoing Scythe Expeditions before its release.
Favourite Surprise: Final Girl. A game I didn’t think was for me but boy was I wrong!
Overall Take Away: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community I was thrilled to see just how inclusive and diverse this convention was. It felt so warm and safe, which is something never to be taken for granted!
But don’t take my word for it, I asked a few of my fellow bloggers who visited the convention for the first time this year, to tell us of their experience.
Where to begin! As a board game lover, I was eager to make my way to the UKGE. After joining the Zatu blog last year, I heard a lot about it and was curious to see what all the fuss was about. As Saturday got underway and we waited in the queue to park I realised how big the expo was. The expo was spread across 3 halls and took over the Hilton Hotel. There was even a medieval village parked outside! Inside gamers rushed around perusing new titles, great discounts and sat down for demos. As I had never been before I was a bit overwhelmed. I had no idea where to go, what to see first and how to spot the games everyone was talking about. Like a deer in headlights, I did a tour of the 3 halls and got my bearings. It took me a solid 2 hours before I even discovered the Zatu stall, which was heaving! It was here I made my first purchase, Whitehall Mystery. I then decided to stop strolling, stop buying and dive into the demos. It was hard to find a free table by the Arnak stand so I settled for Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest. I had no expectations of this game but the guy who taught us how to play was amazing! Super friendly, great at teaching and really settled me into the whole experience! I didn’t catch his name but thank you! Not long after, Libertalia was also in my bag. My first experience was a bit manic as I roamed around ogling at everything that was there. I do think I missed a lot but once I’d bought Ark Nova my puny arms were having none of it. I finished the day by heading over to the Hilton (which was a maze by the way!) and playing some of my new games. It was a great day, and I can’t wait to do it all again and get better at finding those upcoming gems.
Best UKGE Game Experience – Demoing of Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
Favourite Surprise - Finding a copy of Wok and Roll
Overall takeaway – Loved it! Next time I am going for 2 days!
I had some idea of what I was going to see there but was still blown away by the atmosphere and content to see. Hundreds of exhibitors showing off their past and future games, with the ability to purchase these if they are your go to (very dangerous as they all, will mostly likely be your go to). The event itself is well organised across three halls, Halls one and two were predominantly exhibitors and play testing of latest and current releases. The third hall was where the competitions were being held and Bring and Buy was taking place. Food stalls are scattered all around the place and a lovely Viking village outside the main entrance. Friday and Saturday are probably the busiest with Sunday tailing off so more availability to demo games. The ‘bring and buy’ I have been informed is the largest of its kind in the world and some real hidden gems in there at good prices. Even after a day one of hard browsing and play testing, when the stalls close, it’s evening activities, where there is an extensive board game library, which can be borrowed and played in the large open gaming area within the NEC or over at the Hilton Hotel. As my first time at the event, a real treat and pleasure, I would recommend this to anyone, just wear comfy shoes, bring plenty of snacks and drinks.
Best UKGE Game Experience – Nine Worlds by Richard Denning. (And yes we did buy it)
Favourite Surprise - So much to see and do with so many like-minded people.
Overall takeaway – Atmosphere of the event was amazing.
Alistair & Charlotte (Partnersingames)
As newbies to both game blogging and the UKGE we can without a shadow of a doubt say we loved being there this year. We loved demoing games for Zatu and helping/advising customers on what games to buy. The game we enjoyed demoing the most was Blytz that we have already pre-ordered. Keep your eyes peeled for that. There was so much to see, and we would advise anyone who wants to go, you will 100% need more than 1 day, especially if you want to try out any games and explore all three halls. You will find every game you could imagine and so be sure to bring your whole family to carry your haul back to the car as well! This event was super family friendly with games for all ages, we really enjoyed seeing that It was a lovely day on Sunday and as from other people’s accounts it was a lot quieter meaning you could see a lot more without feeling majorly claustrophobic. Go knowing what games you want and be sure to check out the maps to find out where your favourite game designers are and go and seek them out. This is an experience we will be looking forward to when it rolls back around next year.
Best UKGE game experience: Blytz
Favourite Surprise: The size and variation across the show, especially finding IV Studios and picking up a copy of Moonrakers.
Overall takeaway: Brilliant show, would recommend to all family and friends, we will certainly be back.