Expos and Pirates and Castles, Oh My!

That was quite some weekend! I was at UK Games Expo from Thursday afternoon (the day before it started) until it closed on Sunday afternoon, when it closed, and I am now home, tired but very happy about how things went.  Here are some only slightly organised thoughts.

I'll start with the most exciting part for me: I had a couple of meetings to pitch game designers to publishers, and both went extremely well, and the upshot is that Scurvy Crew and The Castle War are both now being evaluated by publishers to consider for publication.  This is still a long way from actually being published, or even a contract being signed, but it's great to even get this far.  I'm not going to say who the publishers are right now, but if anything comes of either of these, I will let you know what I am able.

The main focus for my days was, once again, the Playtest Zone, this time hidden in the back corner of the enormous Hall 1, where I was volunteering for all three of the mornings, and the main task was trying to match players up with designers at the tables, and be there to answer questions and offer general help.  This can be quite a challenge first thing in the morning, when most people at the convention are wanting to explore and see everything before settling down to play things, or they are specifically looking for the latest hotness, but later in the end, we tend to see people wandering in, looking for something to play, and the challenge is then to find a designer needing players. 

The games presented varied from hand-drawn early prototypes, right up to beautifully presented and professionally printed games that are ready to publish.  I often have a bit of a grumble about people using the space as a cheap way to promote their upcoming Kickstarter, of which there are always a few every year, but it doesn't really do any harm and it's probably not particularly efficient marketing. Also, more serious vetting of games would just antagonise people unnecessarily and would risk making it harder for new designers to get onboard, and that is against the ethos of the space.

I failed to take photos other than a couple of this playtest of Scurvy Crew.
I had a 90 minute slot for playtesting Scurvy Crew, during which I hoped to get a couple of plays through (it usually takes about 30 minutes), but in the event we only managed one play as one of my three players was finding the game confusing and hard going.  This was entirely my fault: I was watching the two players opposite me as I explained everything and they got on well with everything, but I didn't check the guy sitting next to me, who it turned out wasn't used to playing hobby games, so would have appreciated a more thorough explanation with fewer shortcuts. Eventually (rather too late) I realised what was going on, apologised and stressed that his misunderstanding was my fault and not his, and helped him through a couple of turns, after which he started to get more comfortable and make more solid decisions. 

Aside from the issue with the struggling player, the game played pretty smoothly and engaged the players who found a couple of different approaches to playing. The players gave a few useful pieces of feedback, but mostly gave me a little extra confidence in the game, which didn't fall apart in any real way.

Later in the afternoon I had another play (I'd count it as a play rather than a proper playtest) with a couple of friends who wanted to check it out, and I actually really enjoyed playing it without feeling that I had to take notes or feedback.  All good for the confidence.

On Friday evening there was the Designer-Publisher Networking Event, which is ostensibly an opportunity for designers and publishers to meet in an informal setting, but there were few publishers, and to be fair, I'm not sure many of them would have welcomed being hassled by a swarm of us rookie designers wanting to pitch games to them after a long and tiring day.  What it was in practice was a comparatively relaxed opportunity to have a drink and a chat with fellow designers to compare war stories, and a couple of interesting talks from Alex Yeager and James Wallis, both good speakers, and both with fun topics -- one of the games I bought in the trade halls was a direct result of one of the talks.

Aside from all this, I managed to have half-decent meals in the evenings (a definite improvement from previous years) and then spend some time with friends, old and new, playing a few games. These days it's proving not-too-hard to find gaming space in the NEC halls in the evenings (though still a nightmare at the Hilton end of the Expo), and I managed to stumble into playing with strangers on two separate evenings, which was nice.

Lots of people post pics of their "haul" from conventions, so here's mine.

So I reckon that this year was my best overall experience at UK Games Expo so far, probably helped somewhat by the fact that I was really comfortable and slept well in my hotel, another thing that rarely happens.  I'm really looking forward to next year, and need to get started on figuring out what games I'm planning to pitch at that point.


  1. Ah, I see you problem with rules explanation - you didn't have one of the Cardiff bunch constantly asking you dumb questions, that always helps.

    1. Yeah, I must admit that my technique has changed since those days. Though I still usually lead off with the "You win by X..." just in case I have one of *those* players. ;)