Guide to the UK board game industry

UK Board Game Industry Guide - UKGE

The UK board game industry has come on in leaps and bounds thanks to the success of the hobby here over past decades. While the USA and Germany might be the first countries you think of in association with tabletop games, the UK has a rich gaming history that has paved the way for a vibrant present.

Publishers like Games Workshop have grown to international prominence after humble beginnings on our shores and have been joined by an increasing number of successful tabletop publishers.

The UK is also home to a hugely successful tabletop gaming convention: the UK Games Expo which, again, has been joined by a host of smaller successes.

And let’s not forget that the success of UK publishers and conventions has been supported by the proliferation of board game retailers and cafes around the country. Almost every city across the UK has at least one board game store and some have many more.

The UK tabletop gaming scene is alive and thriving. I’m going to use this feature to take a closer look at some of its highlights.

UK Tabletop Gaming Conventions

The UK might not be home to as many big-name events as the USA, but there are plenty of conventions and meetups throughout the year all around the country. We can’t possibly mention them all here, but we’ve picked out a few:

The UK Games Expo

The biggest convention in the UK is the UK Games Expo (UKGE). Hosted in Birmingham’s enormous NEC Arena, the UKGE has been a hit with British gamers since its inception 13 years ago. Running across three days in June, it attracts game publishers from all around the world, along with some of the biggest media personalities in the industry.

Across the three days there are tournaments, trade fairs, seminars, retailers, publishers, and much, much more! This year, we'll be making our debut as an exhibitor at UKGE. Come and say hello at Stand 1-916. Find out more about the UKGE event.

Tabletop Gaming Live

After a successful first year, it looks like Tabletop Gaming Live will stick around for some time to come. The convention is held in London’s Alexandra Palace, a bright, spacious environment with plenty of room for exhibitors and open gaming.

Like UKGE, the event includes many of the well-known retailers and publishers, as well as demoing areas and special seminars from members of the industry. We were there in 2018 for the inaugural event and will be returning this year.

Other Convention Highlights

In the interest of keeping this article to a reasonable length I can’t write a paragraph for every convention in the UK. However, there are a few more I want to highlight:

  • AireCon, Harrogate - Featuring a huge games library, demoing areas and special guests, AireCon is a popular event every year. For 2019, we'll be demoing some of our favourite games, come meet us and play some games!
  • Handy Con, Maidenhead - A biannual gaming convention held every January and August. At HandyCon you will find open gaming areas, tournaments, a bring and buy, and much more!
  • Tabletop Scotland, Perth - A relatively new convention which is returning for its second year in 2019. You'll find a D&D EPIC event, other tournaments, seminars and a games library.
  • Dragonmeet, Hammersmith (London) - One of the largest events of its kind in London, Dragonmeet has industry panels, cosplay, demoing areas, tournaments and more.
UK Board Game Industry Guide - Zatu at UKGE

Publishers

A growing number of small but successful UK publishers are joining established brands like Games Workshop as internationally recognised contributors to the industry. Kickstarter has undoubtedly helped some of these publishers to gain a customer base and their presence is great for the UK gaming community, with playtesting and publication opportunities available in an increasing number of locations around the country.

Again, I can’t possibly mention all UK games publishers, so I won’t try. Instead, here are a few highlights:

Games Workshop

This one was a given. I’ve lived around Nottingham for the past five years and have travelled past Warhammer World every week for most of that time.

Notable games: Warhammer; Warhammer 40K; Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire.

Osprey Games

Osprey Games had some big hits in 2018 and boasts a diverse game library.

Notable games: Wildlands; Cryptid; High Society

Alley Cat Games

Having seen a lot of success on Kickstarter, Alley Cat Games has produced some high-quality games recently. They're worth keeping an eye on, for sure.

Notable games: Dice Hospital, Ruthless, The Chocolate Factory

Big Potato Games

Big Potato Games is one of the premier party game publishers in the UK. They’ve had a number of hits with simple, fun games that anyone can pick up without any trouble.

Notable games: The Chameleon, Obama Llama, Weird Things Humans Search For

Honourable mentions

Tabletop gaming, like any entertainment industry, is highly subjective. That’s why I wanted to round out this section with a couple of publishers whose games I’ve played and enjoyed recently:

  • Room 17 Games - I played a Miremarsh prototype before it’s highly successful Kickstarter release and loved the non-stop dice-rolling fun.
  • Rotten Games - Off the Rails was a hidden gem of 2018. Another Kickstarter success, I adore the way this game turns on its head midway through and has players racing for perilously placed gems.

UK Designer Spotlight: Martin Wallace

It’s tough to work out the nationalities of many designers, but one prominent British game designer is Martin Wallace. Wallace has made a name for himself over the years as the architect behind many crunchy, economic games. Notable titles from his portfolio include Brass, Age of Steam and London.

A frequent collaborator with British publisher Osprey Games, Martin Wallace’s influence on other board game designers cannot be understated. His versatility has been shown recently with the successful release of Wildlands, a card-based skirmish game featuring asymmetric teams, though he is undoubtedly best known for his long, industrial-themed titles.

In an industry dominated by designers from the USA and Germany, the UK’s Martin Wallace is up there with the best in the world.

Shut Up & Sit Down

Another UK-based success is Shut Up & Sit Down, one of tabletop gaming’s biggest media producers. With a popular YouTube channel, blog, podcast and even a convention (one that is, sadly in North America), Shut Up & Sit Down’s Quentin Smith and Matt Lees bring dry British humour to the tabletop gaming masses.

Their success is particularly impressive given its independence from other tabletop game powerhouses like Board Game Geek and the Dice Tower Network. Their reviews are well-respected, thorough and balanced at the same time as being consistently entertaining.

Surely, the one thing they’re missing is a SHUX UK?

Playing Board Games in the UK

Finally, the UK has become a fantastic place for people who just want to enjoy playing tabletop games. Board game cafes are all over the country and they’re doing well. These venues give players the chance to try new games with friends and meet other, like-minded people. Many of them support all kinds of tabletop gaming, including collectable card games, board games, RPGs and more. Whatever you’re looking to do more of in this industry, a local board game cafe or store is the place to look.

In addition to stores and cafes, meetups are common. Many towns and cities have groups that are open to newcomers - a simple online search will help you to find groups near you. For one-off chances to game with lots of different people and try the hottest new games, you can’t beat the conventions that we’ve already mentioned and those similar to them.

If you're looking to start your own board game club or meetup, take a read through of Tom Harrod's three-part guide.

The British board game industry is going from strength to strength, with more people coming to the hobby every day. There hasn’t been a better time to be a tabletop gamer in the UK.