Top 5 Games from the UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo - Detective A Modern Crime Board Game

The UK Games Expo was a triumph as always - okay, every convention has flaws, but they're small gripes or just things I've grown accustomed to. We all know the Bring and Buy is a queue nightmare at the wrong times. We all know the Games Library could use a bit of an update.

One thing is for sure though, we love checking out all of the games at the convention be they the new hotness or previous releases that we never got round to seeing before. From my personal experience, here's my Top 5 recommendations from the UK Games Expo to look out for - (caveat: must be unreleased games).

5. Chronicles of Crime (Lucky Duck Games)

Much along the same vein as another game we'll get on to later, this is a co-operative experience where you play detectives trying to solve a case. The weird gimmick here is that all the evidence, characters, locations etc have a QR code printed on them that you scan with your mobile device via an app. Doing so at specific times allows you to have conversations with people, inspect clues in the lab and much more.

In addition you can view a crime scene either as a 360 degree panorama or in VR mode with these . . . slightly fiddly goggles, but hey it's neat.

The case we did was challenging and you really have time against you. My nitpicks however are that the app in its current state does need a few bugs ironed out and I didn't like the VR much as it was easy to miss out key clues without even realising, and if you do that you're off on a tangent for a while before you recover. There's a nice over-arching plot though that spreads over multiple cases and it manages to set the theme nicely despite having to constantly scan stuff.

With a few improvements here and there this has good potential and is worth a look if you want a deduction co-op within a reasonable time length.

4. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (HUB Games)

This definitely takes the prize for the weirdest themed game I saw at the Expo, but that goes a long way to helping it make this list. This is a unique co-op campaign game where you have to take care of a patient called Billy. You'll play through 10 scenarios (I only did one), each of which offers new challenges and story moments for this grand tale being told about Billy and his life.

In the first scenario, you're trying to keep him alive while getting Billy to talk about his past memories so we can find out more about him and his next of kin. But he's not always willing to talk and his memory is hazy. So you have to obtain cards for partial memories and then match them up to clear memories. It's a card play system at the end of the day, but it works well to the theme.

The co-op aspect is a little thin though, to the point where this could simply be a solo game where you control multiple meeples. But hey, I like solo games so if that's the case, I'm cool with that. The story has peaked my interest and I welcome innovation in board game design, which I feel we're lacking in these years - I'll check this one out on release.

3. Dice Hospital (Alley Cat Games)

This is a slight cheat as I've played it before this Expo, but it's still in its final production stages. Dice Hospital is a neat and thinky dice allocation game where you manage a hospital with constant patients needing attention. Their health will decrease if not treated and your goal is to save as many as possible and try not to let anyone die.

Besides the cool aesthetics, there's a lot of depth for combo building in this game. You build extra wards in your hospital and hire additional staff, all of which give you benefits in treating specific colours of dice (the colours represent different types of health issues). You want an efficient engine, but also have to adapt to what patients get brought in, because they'll be different each round and turn order may impact whether you get to pick the ambulance or upgrade that you want.

It's a solid game that I actually backed on Kickstarter - definitely worth looking into if you want something that is a big step up from gateway levels.

2. Reef (Plan B Games / Next Move Games)

This new publishing branch of Plan B Games is focusing on titles with very simple rules, but with a good level of depth, so basically what they were doing before, so why the change, I digress! Reef is the first in that line (all the games will also be four letters long) from Emerson Matsuuchi, best known for the Century series.

Reef, in terms of rules, is childishly simple - you either draw a card from a selection or you play a card to both place reef parts on your board and score for various arrangements. That's pretty much it. Keep on going until one pile of reef blocks runs out and then check who wins. It sounds dull for being so simple, but this is incredibly elegant and has that little bit of tactical depth as you adapt your board to what cards are available to set yourself up for big points or deny other players the cards you know they want.

It was only in partial design form so we had giant coloured cubes whereas the final design should be different reef segments. But it was so colourful on the table and pops to any passers by. Definitely worth checking out on release as Reef has great potential to be a gateway classic.

Credit: Next Move Games / Plan B Games

1. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game (Portal Games)

At the UK Games Expo, this was the highlight of the week, hands down, no competition. Detective has been in the works from Ignacy Trzewiczek at Portal Games for some time now and at this rate, it's looking to be a solid hit.

Detective has you playing a team of detectives trying to solve a case co-operatively. You'll be given a brief, some cards with plenty of background text on them and a board that simply tracks your location and time of day. You have a set amount of time to gather your clues and information before you attempt to solve the case by way of multi-choice questions.

The cool extra gimmick here is that you have access to a desktop website that functions as your database. Cards will give you prompts that you can type in on the site and bring up really detailed profiles on, be it locations or finger print scans or personnel files. It's being finalised, but in its current state it worked pretty smoothly.

Each case is around a two or three hour affair and I don't usually like games that are too long unless they can engage me 100%. Detective did exactly that - I'm excited for this one.