The UK games expo (UKGE) is Britain’s biggest games event- all the big companies are there, there is acres of gaming table, and every imaginable gaming product… But for many of us, the joy of UKGE is the unexpected discovery- the little gem enthusiastically explained to us by the person who has been polishing it lovingly for years. We’ve gathered some of our Zatu bloggers to share their favourite finds from this year’s show, starting with Director Dan.
Scythe Expeditions - Dan Street-Phillips
I have always been a huge fan of Scythe. It was one of the first heavier games I played when getting into the hobby and more importantly it was the game that got me into painting my miniatures. I have pimped up my copy, complete with metal coins, realistic resources and have played through the brilliant Rise of Fenris campaign expansion and so I feel like it was safe to say a sequel game was always going to get my interest. I had been following its progress ever since it was announced, however since Stonemaier games famously don’t go to conventions themselves I was quite content knowing I wouldn’t get to try the game until it arrived on my doorstep.
Well, wasn’t it a surprise then when someone of this same Zatu parish messaged to say they would be demoing Scythe Expeditions…at UKGE!
I ran over the area of UKGE where Asmodee were holding their big box demos and begged to be squeezed into the already packed schedule. Luckily I managed to grab a slot for the Saturday when my husband and brother-in-law would be joining me. Grouped up with some other gamers we managed to play for almost an hour after a very short teach (I had already watched some how to pay videos so was quite comfortable with the gameplay) which was more than enough to convince me I was right to pre-order. Expeditions, although thematically and aesthetically in the world of Scythe the gameplay feels very different. You are moving your (beautiful and huge) mech around the land from tile to tile, revealing as you go along and helping the inhabitants to fight against mystical corruption that is infecting the land. You are managing your hand of cards, building items, melding meteors and completing quests, all in aid to get ‘glory’, the recognisable stars of Scythe that will trigger the end game much like its predecessor. I am very excited for this game and thanks to UKGE I am also relieved to know that my pre-order was the right decision!
Kavango - David Ireland
I had a great day out on the Saturday of the UKGE with so many highlights, but the best moment for me and my fun find was getting an introduction to Kavango by Mazaza Games. What a treat this was.
Mazaza’s stand was busy when I arrived but this allowed me a chance to speak to Zara, one of the creators, before sitting down to play. I had the opportunity to learn about the Kavango, their first board game project, all about conservation and protecting nature. The team at Mazaza have such a passion for conservation and the protection of wildlife which was so evident when talking about the game. They are hoping the board game also draws attention to the importance of protecting the natural world, as well as being an incredibly fun game to play.
I had actually identified Kavango (on Instagram) as a stand to visit but got overwhelmed by the event on the day and forgot about my plan to find them, I got caught up in the occassion. So, I was relieved to stumble across their stand and thrilled to get the opportunity to participate as it did not disappoint. The game hugely exceeded my expectations which was awesome.
As a player, you are in charge of creating your nature reserve and building a balanced wildlife park. By this I mean you cannot just go straight away to picking up the alpha predators without taking up some of the smaller and lower down species in the food chain. Along the way of play you have to consider research projects as well as the need for protecting your park from climate change, poachers and the animal’s habitat in general. The game is built on 3 rounds, 10 turns in a round and that is it, count up the end scores, every animal in your park scores, then add on bonuses to determine the winner. When we got into the game we found the rules simple, but with much deeper strategy required and this makes a great game for me.
Mazaza have a kickstarter planned for September 2023, I cannot wait for this and the opportunity to play the game again. Kavango is my fun find of 2023.
Viking Raiders, Cults Of Bleakpyre & Lorcana - Jay Davies
Attending this years UKGE representing Bucket List Gamers, I was lucky enough to secure some time to sit down with a few game developers. As a result, I made a few 'fun finds' that I'm really excited to talk about.
The first was Viking Raiders. No, not the WWE tag team, but rather a nice little hand management game by Morten Billcliff. Accommodating 2 to 5 players, 'Vikings' strive to have the strongest Navy, the most Loot and the largest Clan. To do this they can buy items from the store, raid other players or even get some 'help from the gods' such as Odin and Loki.
A fun, high quality game that won't break the bank, or take up too much room in your bag!
Straying slightly more into adult territory, Cults of Bleakpyre is a beautifully grotesque game about sacrificing poor peasants and greedy Nobles.
Although it may sound grim, Cults of Bleakpyre wouldn't be out of place on a shelf alongside some Discworld novels and Monty Python DVDs, with a similar style of worldbuilding and humour respectively.
The artwork is sublime, and each Cult has its own personality and related skills, such as 'The Seers' who are aware they are part of a board game but struggle to convince anyone else that is the case.
Cults of Bleakpyre will be coming to Kickstarter in early 2024 and I for one can't wait!
Finally, I'd have to say Lorcana. I know, it was hardly a 'hidden gem', with the Ravensburger stand taking up what felt like a quarter of Hall 2. But actually getting to play it felt like uncovering a much-coveted piece of loot.
Lorcana is the biggest single release of unique Disney artwork EVER, and if you're a fan of the House of Mouse then the re-imagined character art is something you won't want to miss.
Having spoken to Ryan Miller, albeit briefly, it was clear to see how much passion he has for what he and Disney have created, and after a few demo hands I pre-ordered as much of it as I could find.
Fingers crossed the legal wrangling doesn't delay release!
Fun (& Freaky) RPG’s! - Tom Foulds
Taking a small step to the side, away from board games for a spell, I’d like to talk about a few really interesting RPG’s that I’ve only heard of thanks to UKGE. Here are a few of the ones me and my friends picked up!
First up, a nice little solo RPG called Be Like A Crow. As the name might suggest, its a game that teaches you to behave like a Crow (or a Jackdaw, Magpie, or Rook. Anything Corvid) All you need is the book and a deck of playing cards and you're good to go! Be Like A Crow is a journaling game that gives the player the chance to see the world's landscapes as a different creature, with changes and differences being dictated by the deck of cards. The Setting is fun, It’s great to play of an evening and an eye opening start to the RPG hobby if you're looking to give it a go.
Next up at UKGE, I found a lovely little thing called Tartarus Gate. Found and printed in a magazine style with brilliant artwork complete with a full set of rules, handouts and really well illustrated maps! All in one little magazine! Tartarus Gate is a horror RPG set in deep space and is designed more as a one shot, as the players wake up to possible problems in the ship they struggle to remember anything about. All you need is 3 six sided dice per player, and your good to go. Good game to get if you're looking to start running RPGs.
Orbital Blues has got to be my favourite find this year, just for the presentation alone! This RPG sees the players take the role of crew aboard a somewhat ramshackle spaceship carving out a name for themselves in this expansive world. Think along the lines of Firefly, or Cowboy Bebop.
What made this a great pick up was the extras. A full art book choc full of the amazing art style and an actual cassette tape containing 5 tracks from an in universe band. I’ve never been excited to buy a cassette player.
Honourable mention to Spire and its publisher…. Who were selling most of their stock including a newspaper that was written and designed to look like and in game prop. Its hard to find but if you love the game (and if you’ve never played, I highly recommend) its a beautiful little item to add a bit of reality to your game.
Save Snowball - Matt Law
What a wild couple days. This was the first time bringing my partner along who had an absolute blast. We got to see our dear friend Alex Troman perform his podcast (Roll Britannia, go on check them out, they’re hilarious) live on the main stage and sell out on many items of their merch.We hung out with a lovely Father & son in the evenings introducing us to new games (Heat, I spun out many a time) and briefly said hello to the No Rolls Barred gang ( I had Sully on my podcast, boardgamebuddies, you should check that out too) and saw our lovely friends Shona & Mickey who were running the mega games!
When I went to Expo last year by myself it was fun, don’t get me wrong, but I barely had as
much interaction as I did going with someone else. All the stalls and stands were far more inviting with the two of us and I saw so much more.
Me and Marf have worked in Escape games for over seven years in one sense or another so I want to speak about the lovely guys from Decking Awesome games. They were showing off their next kickstarter project Save Snowball! A fast paced, deck configured escape game.Your adorable bunny has been kidnapped and you must set off on a quest to rescue her. The puzzles were slick, the design approachable and it felt like we were walking through a classic point’n’click adventure (especially in its graphic design). We had ten minutes to get through as much of the game as we could and I think we may have surprised the team with our speed. We can’t wait to back this on Kickstarter!
Despite the endless variety of treasures spread across the vast halls of UKGE, my ‘fun find’ was tucked away in what was, by comparison, a tiny back room. Piazza Suite 5, a small conference room that sat a short distance from Hall 2, played host to a pair of psychological researchers from Edge Hill University in Lancashire. Their presentation, ‘Board games as a tool for social good’ discussed how board games (especially the likes of Dixit) can have therapeutic applications, with a particular focus on conditions like autism.
As the game revolves around using artwork cards to convey different meanings, players can use Dixit to open discussions about topics they may otherwise struggle to discuss, consider the interpretations of others, and make social connections with their fellow gamers. I am thrilled that such research is taking place; the idea that our beautiful hobby can be used to make a positive difference in people’s lives is incredibly heart-warming and encouraging. To be able to bring joy to others, in my view, is more fun than any one item.
On a different academic theme, ‘21X’ is an algebra-based card game that is marketed as ‘Blackjack for Maths Lovers’. Players must try to make 21, but instead of the deck of cards bearing the standard numbers and royals, each card features an algebraic expression. Of course, if you get your maths wrong, you can easily bust yourself. I can imagine this being very useful for maths students, who could play the game as a form of revision. It could also be excellent for non-students who want to give themselves a headache. I am absolutely the latter, and I look forward to backing it on Kickstarter in September.
Maybe I have a strange interpretation of the word ‘fun’…
If nothing else, we hope that what you have got from this article is a sense of the sheer variety of gaming experiences on offer at the UKGE. If you’ve never been, we hope you are encouraged. Whether you are a convention person or not we hope we have inspired you to seek some things out!