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UK Games Expo 2024 – Zatu Blogger experience


This was my 3rd Expo at the NEC. I first went in 2016, again last year and now, for the third time this year in 2024. It’s a truly unbelievable event just on the sheer scale of it. Spanning 3 major halls of the NEC, the front lawn between halls and live venue as well as taking over a substantial amount of the Hilton hotel in opening gaming. There is most likely more and just so much happening.

Like last year, I was a single day visitor on Saturday only. Last year I didn’t have too much of a plan, stumbled on some very cool stuff, and not least the game, Kavango. I backed that one on kickstarter.

This year in 2024 I wanted more out of the occasion and so did a bit of prep, but I was keen to get more games in, and games I knew. So what better way to achieve this than taking part in a tournament and guaranteeing some game time and some fun with a game I know pretty well. I entered the UK Carcassonne championship.

I’ve played gaming tournaments in the past, not since the early 00’s but I am no stranger to competition and a little pressure with a history of sport, playing rugby, badminton and formerly practicing a Martial art. Playing a board game is a walk in the park by contrast. However you put a little pressure on yourself and the best thing is you get to play against some people you have never met before which is always a treat, because you are both passionate about the board game in between you. You chose to enter this competition and you get to pit yourself against someone of a similar mindset.

This Carcassonne tournament guaranteed me 6 games of the iconic game. If I won 5 out of the 6 (at least) I'd progress into some knockout finals. It was all played using the base set of Carcassonne in a 2 player format. There is a 4 player tournament at the Expo on Friday. Those of you familiar with the game will know it plays up to 5 people, however the UK Champs are 2 players head to head. The referees also clearly articulate the tournament rules at the start for clarity which was great, everyone understands.

So game 1 and I have to say I got off to a flying start. I just hit the ground running with the tiles really landing for me and not so much my opponent. So the scoreline was heavily in my favor and I took the win in game 1, what a great start.

Game 2 then gets under way and I blunder early on and 2 of my 7 meeples are taken out of action. I was unable to score them due to tile placement, they were trapped on the board and this significantly hindered my scoring potential. I knew I was up against it now. This opponent was incredibly focused and tournament minded. He was quoting some of the tournament rules at me, taking it very seriously. This really brought out my competitive spirit, I felt I was up against it but I wasn’t going to give up. What amused me though was when they made the same tournament rule error I had made, so I took a huge amount of delight in throwing it back at them and calling them on it, several times. This opponent seemed determined to take out more of my meeples making it further challenging for me to score. They may have lost focus on their own game trying to ruin mine. So the fact I won the game by a single point was hugely satisfying for me given how this one played out. 2 wins from 2, excellent.

In this tournament, if you are winning, you play the other winners. It’s referred to as a swiss format and losers play other losers, it keeps things competitive. So in round 3 I had an opponent who had also won their first 2 games. This opponent was a very slow player and very calculated. I’d never encountered a player like them. Not only were they tracking the score on the tracker, but also tracking the scores of meeples in play and constantly checking the difference between us.I had a strong feeling they were also tile counting, which was confirmed later in the day for me. By this, I mean they knew every single tile within the carcassonne set, so they know how many of a particular tile type is left, which is critical at the end of the game for scoring opportunity. This was a serious player! I was hanging with them for the majority of the game but the board game gods were not shining on me as I did draw a few howlers making it that bit harder. I went for a Hail Mary somewhat at the end to try and steal the game, it didn’t come off and I took my first loss.

In game 4 things further unravelled for me with another loss, only 2 wins out of 4 now. This game was played in a great spirit though, it was only a narrow loss and actually could have swung either way, just luck of the tile draw. It was a highly competitive game, the sort of game you are happy to lose because of the manner it was played in.

Game 5 set me back on winning ways, like game 4, another friendly opponent who knew what she was doing (she tried to make out she didn’t.) Interestingly it was her husband who was my round 3 opponent so she was accustomed to strong opponents. She loved to chat during play and we had a lovely conversation. I nearly made a huge error, plus I realized reasonably early she was playing well, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. Her chat was distracting me and I needed to re-focus to get this win. I couldn’t help but reflect on this one, that given how her husband played the game, this is her method to beat him, just not stop talking at him. I might be wrong, probably am but it was another fun game played in great spirit.

My final game was against another competitive opponent. She had come to the tournament with her 8 year old son who was also competing (and holding his own) and was a very confident player in her own right. From my point of view a really challenging and competitive game again where I narrowly lost by 8 points. No complaints though as she played a strong game. She had a lovely cluster of monasteries which provided her a decent chunk of points.

So that left me 3 from 6 and a thoroughly satisfied competitor as the 3 I lost, could have been wins on another day. If you are thinking you are not good enough at a game to take part in a tournament, I think it is still worth giving it a go as you learn so much through the competition. The best thing though was meeting the people you are playing as well as the general conversations in between the rounds. People were so friendly and actually happy to talk, it was the best part alongside some fun filled games, for many different reasons.

Finally after this tournament finished I managed to take in a bit of the show. I made sure I checked out the Zatu stand and talked to some of the wonderful team there. They also played host to the Kavango creators, Matt and Zara. They kindly let me play a demo in 2023 to which I backed the kickstarter following this demo game. It was a truly brilliant game and worth a look if you haven’t. Catching up with Matt and Zara as well was brilliant, finding out how their last year had been after a successful first Kickstarter campaign. It was cool.

Then I went looking for people who I have connected with on social media and was grateful to find a few of them and meet face to face at a convention of a hobby we all love. So it was great to get to know them a little more and squeeze in one more game for the day. I was introduced to a game called Shadow Hunters, a wonderful party game of deduction which created a lot of laughter amongst the group. It’s another on my wishlist for sure.

That is what has made the expo for me this year, that is the people and connecting with folk who enjoy the same hobby as you do. I came in with the objective of playing some games and meeting some cool people in the hope of having a great day, which was very much achieved. It can be awkward trying to strike up conversation with strangers, the one thing you know though is those people are there for the same reason you are and that is board games, you know you will have something to talk about. Plus there is so much happening at the expo, I don’t think you could possibly take it all in, so enjoy those moments you are in, I certainly did and very much hope to be back in 2025.