‘Exposing’ makes this post sound a lot more dramatic than it is! My final post about the 2016 UK Games Expo (for now) is a few points of note for anyone who may be considering attending next year and wants a more independent view of what to expect (aka what I wish I’d known in advance).
First of all, there is a difference between the expo itself and other events taking place at/alongside it. I’d assumed that I would need a ticket to get ‘in the expo’ for all three days if I wanted to partake in the related activities. This isn’t the case [ETA: see the comments below. The official expo rules say this is the case, even though the implementation was quite different] , so could have saved myself £13 by just buying a Saturday pass. Of course that depends on what activities you’re interested in, and where they’ve been scheduled. Many of the live events were in the hotel (expo ticket not required) but some were in the main hall’s makeshift ‘seminar room’ (ticket required). The detailed schedule isn’t released until a couple of weeks before, but I don’t think that the expo tickets ever sold out, so you could buy your event tickets well in advance and then just buy entry tickets closer to the time.
On that note, if you want to participate in the live events, be sure to book your tickets well in advance. I spoke to a number of people who were expecting to buy them while they were there only to find ‘sold out’ signs. On the flip side, if you follow that advice and still don’t get the tickets you want, be sure to check if that’s still the case on arrival. Some extra tickets were available for one of the shows I was in as the room capacity ended up being higher than they expected. Finally, for unticketed events, particularly on the Saturday, be sure to arrive early if you want to get in. The (second) Shut Up and Sit Down live podcast had a lot of disappointed faces outside.
Speaking of queues, probably the longest and certainly the most persistent was outside the Bring & Buy sale (which is inside the expo). Don’t expect to just have a casual browse when you feel like it. It’s run in a quite small area, so the number of people allowed inside at once is (sensibly) controlled, which creates a one-in-one-out system. I raced there first thing on Saturday morning so there was pretty much no queue, but other people complained about “queueing for hours” later in the day. As for the sale itself, I picked up a couple of games for £6-10 cheaper than you can get them new, but didn’t see anything significantly cheaper than you find in similar groups on facebook. Of course it will all depend on what’s been brought, when it gets processed and when you’re inside.
So we’ve got the Bring & Buy area and a seminar room for (some of the) live events, but what else is ‘in the expo’? A lot of the space is taken up by shops. I thought they must be offering some amazing ‘expo only’ deals but very few of them had anything like that. In the majority of cases the games were more expensive than they are online. I know some people won’t buy online because they want to support their local game stores, but at an expo they aren’t local, so I’m not really sure what the attraction is. But it certainly didn’t stop a lot of people surrounding all of the stands for a big part of the day.
Next you have the designers, exhibitors and demonstrators trying to entice you into buying or backing their games. There was a lot of this going on yet still probably not quite enough as I’m sure more people would have liked to try stuff if they had the chance. The tables and stands were pretty much constantly busy all day on Saturday.
You also have food and drink providers and space to take a break for a while that was all very satisfactory.
The last feature of note is the ‘open gaming’ area. This was a great idea that unfortunately can’t possibly meet the demand. There are tables for you to play games you’ve just bought, or borrowed from an impressively large library provided by Thirsty Meeples Board Game Cafe. But the tables in the main hall were packed all day, and on the Saturday it was no better over in the hotel as many of the tables were reserved for tournaments. This peaked around 17:30 when the main hall shut and everyone descended on to the hotel while the tournaments were still in progress. There wasn’t an empty seat anywhere, with many people resorting to playing on the floor. Accompanied with how poorly the ‘put a flag on your table if you want extra players’ idea was publicised I found it simply impossible to find a game as an individual; quite the opposite of my usual experience with open gaming/board game meetups.
Overall I had a very interesting if not always enthralling weekend. There was plenty to do, just getting the chance to do it was difficult. However after learning these lessons I’m very open to going again next year. Hopefully this will prove helpful for you too, and if you’re going give me a shout.