UK Games Expo is the biggest board gaming event in the UK that has been growing and becoming more popular every year since it started back in 2007. It is a great place to meet board game designers, cosplay, buy and, of course, play many tabletop and RPG games, including those that have not been released yet. I always found the board gaming community to be very welcoming and encouraging, and this never rang more true than for UK Games Expo. Games are played on every horizontal surface available at all times and absolutely all ages are welcomed.
Recently, the shown has outgrown its home of many years, the NEC Hilton Metropole Birmingham, and now has partly moved into the NEC Trade Hall proper, while still maintaining its presence in the hotel. Occupying these impressive premises also means that there a lot of games to see and play, and I really mean a lot! With the first day of the expo behind me, here are a few games I got a chance to have a look and play:
Codenames was a game that unexpectedly stole my heart from the first game I played. Incredibly simple, it is a game which has to be played to be fully appreciated, because it is hard to do it justice by explaining. I will try, nonetheless. Two teams compete against each other to discover encrypted names of the agents on their team. The names are coded in simple words and only the spymaster knows the location of the team’s names, and once all discovered leads to that team winning the game. However, the spymaster can only give one word clues that apply to as many words on the board as possible in one go. Their team then has to guess those words, avoiding those belonging to the opposing team and, most importantly, avoiding the assassin word.
Codenames: Pictures is very much the game the names implies. It is exactly the same system as Codenames, but instead of a grid of words, there is a grid of pictures. This makes it both harder and easier. Easier, because the spymaster can directly name what is shown on the picture. For example, for the picture of a zebra, they could say ‘zebra (number)’ or similar. Harder, because the picture is not that simple, as everyone of them has at least two or more additional elements. For example, the infamous zebra also has a checkered pattern, which allows for other connections. For example, ‘squares (number)’ or ‘monochrome (number)’ and so on. Sometimes these possibilities are not that obvious and may not be spotted by all players, which is where difficulty comes from: it is much harder to spot every detail on every single image on the grid, than just a word. However, that also makes it that much more fun. I have a feeling I will be picking up Codenames: Pictures when it comes out in August.
Glimpse’s concept impressed me the most out of everything I played on the first day of UK Games Expo. On the surface it is a simple, fun party game, with some elements of Cards Against Humanity, but in a slightly different approach. Unlike Cards Against Humanity, Glimpse can only be as bad as the player makes it to be and the game by no means encourages a player to be offensive. In fact, finding out how dirty or close minded the player could be, is part of the point. All of that happens via a very interesting twist.
In front of two competing teams, there is a grid of characters. Each one of them has a blue, green or black cube assigned to them. One member from each team can see colours of the cubes (green corresponding to green team, and similarly for blue, while black are ‘joker’ double point cubes), while other members of the team are wearing glasses that prevent them from distinguishing which colour is which. Each turn, the team leader has to give a clue about a character on the grid to its team mates, so they in turn could guess the correct character. This aided through action cards that range from questions like ‘which movie would your character like?’ to actions such as ‘mimic your characters profession’.
The glasses and inability to see the colour is a very interesting comment on colour blindness, and puts things, at least for me, in perspective. Also if your instruction is ‘this character is from America’, your choice of as character could be saying something about you, or maybe not. Even so, Glimpse looks like an excellent party game with the very interesting twist and, I think could be used, equally for fun and educational purposes.
Safe Braker is also a quite simple game. At least its rules are because playing it will make your head hurt… in a good way. Each player tries to find a secret combination to the King’s safe, which is coded in the broken tokens. There are six numbered tokens, from 1 to 6, and there are also six coloured tokens; yellows, reds, blues, and so on. Each player, at random and without revealing it to anyone, chooses a colour and a number. Other players must guess exactly which colour and number their opponents have, in order to take them out of the game, so they could be the one opening the King’s safe, surely, full of treasure and gold. In order to do that, a player can ask an opponent if they have a colour and a number, for example ‘do you have a red one’? If the player who is being asked, has that colour or number, they must say ‘yes’ and nothing more, without giving away which aspect is correct. If the player has confessed, they in turn can ask a player to their left. The players could also accuse each other. If the accuser is correct then the accused is out of the game. If the accuser was in the wrong, their are out of the game instead.
In essence this becomes a very fun, yet brain braking, game of remembering who said what, and which player was which number or colour. With six players this can be especially challenging and frustrating, However, it is always good frustrating, that comes with a lot of suspension (when someone is about to accuse), groans (if that fails) and laughs (when the players try to guess or remember numbers and colours). The lock tokens themselves are very neat looking: two pieces of the tower that stick together through magnets, easy to keep hidden from opponents but easy to check for the player themselves.
Lantern – Lost in the Dark
Lantern – Lost in the Dark is a co-operative Lovecraftian horror mystery game born out of game jam and still in its prototype stage, but it is looking very promising. There are distinct Elder Sign and Betrayal at House on the Hill vibes within the game, which is by no means a bad thing. Each player takes control of the character with different abilities and inventory, while they explore the dark rooms to find ancient relics. There is only one oil lamp, which is running out of oil, and if the players don’t stick together they may be forever lost in the dark. And if the lamp runs out of oil the game ends. If all the characters die the game ends, and there are a lot of ways for characters to die. They could be attacked by monsters, crabbed and carried away, get panicked and give up the search all together. If the character dies, they are then turned into a monster, which other team members have to fight.
The game has a lot of interesting story telling elements, in which each room and event have detailed setting up and descriptions. While there isn’t a lot at the moment in a way of artwork, and there is a promise of more characters and items coming into the game, I can see it having enough diversity with various tactical approaches making it interesting.
If you loved buying all the shinies in Splendor, you will probably also enjoy Queen’s Necklace. However, while thematically they are similar – players attempt to buy as many precious stones as possible – the game play is quite different. For one, Queen’s Necklace has a lot of different moving parts and tokens. Each turn players have ten coins to buy either precious stones – diamonds, rubies, emeralds or opals – or character action cards with various abilities. The price of these cards can come down in value, depending on how long they have been on the market. Three times throughout the game, the merchant comes to town and starts the sale, where each precious stone will have a certain value depending on how fashionable and rare it is. By selling stones from their hand, the players earn points, and the player with the most points wins the game.
Queen’s Necklace is delightfully colourful with humorous yet gorgeous artwork and nice components. I enjoyed the game a lot, however I must admit that moving the price token on the cards almost every 30 seconds could get quite tiring in a two player game.
Ice Cool is a dexterity game with an adorable premise. Most players are penguin runners trying to collect fish, while one player is a penguin chaser, trying to catch the other players. There are points assigned for successes in each endeavour, and player switch between runners and chasers so by the end of the game, each player has played as both roles. As the story usually goes, the player with the most points wins.
However, the fun in the game comes mainly from the way the penguins are moved around the board, which is a sequence of rooms with door openings. Each penguin is flicked around the board, and, depending on how good the players flicking skills are, they can even circle through one room to another and jump over the walls. The craziness of cute penguins flying around the board (in all the wrong directions, of course) and players circling the table like hawks to find a better flicking position ensues. Of course, the more players participate, the more chaos ensues and the better the game plays. Ice Cool is a Crokinole with penguins and it is known that penguins make all things instantly better.