This year was the first year we attended the UK Games Expo for the full three days and we still didn’t feel like we had enough time to see everything! For us, this year was bigger and better. Ticket sales were the highest yet, up 30% on 2017, but the space also expanded into Hall Two, meaning that we were able to demo almost all of the games we were excited for and we didn’t struggle to find a table in the open gaming space when we wanted to – a big improvement on our 2017 experience.
We played a lot of demos, as well as some recent releases and here are our top five games form the UK Games Expo 2018.
5. Reef (Plan B Games / Next Move Games)
Like many gamers, we are hotly anticipating Reef, the next game in the ‘Next Move’ line from Plan B Games that will follow on from Azul. Azul is a very hard act to follow after its fantastic success and recent Spiel des Jahres nomination. After a first play, we’re not quite sure it hits the same heights as Azul, but it’s still a great little puzzle game.
You’re building a coral reef (the second game of this theme that we played at the Expo) and to do this you are drafting cards that, when played, mean that you add some coral to your board and then have a scoring objective that will give you points for different configurations on you board, for example having yellows on level two or purples adjacent to greens. The joy in the game is creating a chain of actions that work in perfect harmony to give you consistent scoring opportunities.
Although we only played with prototype components, the final products looks like it will have the high production quality we’ve come to expect from Plan B with Azul.
4. Raids (Iello)
Raids was one of the big pre-releases that you could buy at the UK Games Expo this year. (Its full release is not until GenCon). Along with Century: Eastern Wonders it’s a small step towards the UK Games Expo becoming a convention where publishers release big games.
To quote a friend from Twitter, Raids is a cross between Jamaica and Tokaido. The board really looks like Jamaica and you are travelling around with boats over a series of four circuits of the board – loading different cargo into slots on your player board, which looks like a boat. Like Tokaido there is a mechanism where the player at the rear is always the active player. Points are available for collecting runes, slaying monsters, getting money, off-loading goods and hitting different objectives at the end of every round.
There is competition because you can sacrifice Vikings to go into battle with a ship on a space that you really want for your strategy, but overall there are a lot of interesting decisions as a result of the movement mechanics in the game and the limited capacity of your boat. Raids looks great and is the kind of game I’d love to use as a slight step up from a gateway game with lots of friends.
3. Albedo (Herbertz Entertainment)
Albedo is a small box deck-building game from Kai Herbertz – a small independent designer and publisher from Germany. The game had a small release at Essen 2017 where it sold out and is currently only available at conventions, however it is coming to Kickstarter with an expansion in the next few weeks.
We are often guilty of running to the big name, new hotness at conventions, but we’re so glad we took a look at this game. The game is unique amongst all deck-builders we have played with lots of hand management, as well as some blind bidding. With your hand of six cards you compete with the other players for control over two planets. You assign cards to either planet one or planet two and compete in air combat for turn order.
However, your ground combat will dictate whether you have a choice of victory points, acquiring more cards or thinning your deck. Most cards can be used in the upside down configuration to alter their balance of air and ground combat.
Albedo feels like a really refreshing take on deck-building and it was our most played game over the course of the weekend
2. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game (Portal Games)
There is no doubt in Amy’s mind that Portal's new game Detective is going to be a huge hit. While each game of the five-game campaign is estimated to take about three hours (we took 2:15 for the first game), the rules are simple enough that you don't have to be a heavy gamer to enjoy it. One of the big selling points in Detective is that it's a fiction story set in the real world. Several events and groups referenced in the game are real historical groups/events and the game actively encourages you to look up information about them on Wikipedia. Doing so can help you find out if someone is stretching the truth a little thin.
The game presents you with many leads to check out, but you only have a certain amount of time to crack the case. While we weren't caught out by any complete red herrings, some leads were definitely less useful than others, so manage your time wisely. Playing Detective really was a unique experience, everyone in our group immediately took up a role, from using the police database to managing the mind map.
Detective succeeds in making you feel like you are really doing police work, and we're eagerly anticipating its release in a few months.
1. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (HUB Games)
Fiona took part in the first demo on Friday for Michael Fox, one of the designers of Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr and he admitted he was nervous about the reception for the game. After three days of being one of the most popular demos at the UK Games Expo 2018, I hope those nerves have calmed. I imagine that one of the main reasons it was so popular is because of its theme - it touches on a hard subject of providing care to a probably terminally ill patient which is somewhat controversial but is handled really well by the game.
The co-operative mechanisms of the game are light, but you are working against a deck of cards which will throw you medical emergencies as well as opportunities to talk to Billy about his memories and try and piece together his past. You gain partial memories throughout the game and piece them together as a jigsaw, and eventually you find the right lucid moments to push Billy to tell you the full memory. The art style for these memory cards is fantastic with the full memory revealing the clear picture from what is a board brush stroke, fuzzy image in the fragmented memory.
There are 10 scenarios in the full game and each promises to build on your knowledge of Billy's life as you learn more throughout the game. I'm fascinated to see how the game develops and hope it is a huge success for Hub Games.