UKGE 2018 Roundup - Thursday and Friday
By Ben Porter
It may be coming to you almost 3 weeks late, and we may have already talked extensively on the podcast about UKGE 2018, but apparently people in the 21st century still like to read. How knew?
Without further ado, I present to you the Unlucky Frog Gaming UKGE 2018 Roundup.
Allow me to start at the beginning.
Our first ever trip to UKGE began with a mad rush from Birmingham New Street to the NEC in order to make the Press Preview Event. It was over 20 degrees. We'd been on a train from Glasgow for over four hours, but we soldiered on.
The preview event was not quite what I had expected. There were probably about as many people there as I had expected, but all of the exhibitors were essentially packed together in little mini-stands with their game – or a prototype of their game – set up in front of them. Being the naive first-timer that I was, I had expected to meander around the trade floor proper, perhaps have a quick demo of a game or two…
But UKGE is a very big event. Prior to this, the biggest tabletop gaming event we had attended had about 1500 unique visitors over a weekend. UKGE had 21,700 this year. The exhibiting area this year spanned two halls of the centre – and we're talking aircraft hangar-sized halls. This is not a small event. And considering most of those stands were still setting up on the Thursday – and there were loads of them – there was no way you could have press wandering what would have essentially been a construction site. So, I can understand why the press event is set up as it is, and it's definitely useful in that it gave us an opportunity to hand out business cards and talk to people we had perhaps only briefly chatted with via email.
After catching up with some friends over pizza, we headed back to our digs in Birmingham City Centre. Whilst disembarking at New Street Station, some wee guy in a red bandana saw our Unlucky Frog t-shits and asked us what they were for.
It turned it that it was none other than Tommy from Jollyboat – one of the acts performing at the UKGE. We chatted with Tommy, Ed and their mate Dave for a wee bit in the station and got some rather decent pictures with them. They're a great couple of lads. More about them later.
The Shadespire Grand Clash
Being the discerning, organised individuals that we are, Josh and myself bought tickets to enter the Shadespire Grand Clash on the Friday. The event lasted the full day. Don't start.
Joking aside, I'm glad that we took part, but it did take up a lot of our time, and poor Charlotte was left to take care of meetings and press stuff on her own for most of the day (though I'm sure she was secretly glad to be rid of the two idiots for a while). One of the things that I often say of Unlucky Frog Gaming – and that our regular listeners/readers/viewers are probably sick of hearing – is that when we first set out on this madcap tabletop adventure, we decided amongst ourselves that we would remain gamers first and foremost. And to that end, the Grand Clash was a very useful, insightful and enjoyable experience.
There were about 80 participants, making it the largest Grand Clash GW has hosted in the UK thus far. The tournament used a Swiss system, with players playing 4 matches in the typical 'best of three' style. To aid with organising pairings and keeping players up to date with rankings, the organisers used an app called Best Coast Pairings, which I had never seen before.
Players downloaded the app (which is free) from the Apple of Play store and submitted their details to the organiser, registering for a Best Coast Pairings account if they did not already have one. When I logged into the app, a tab with the event for the day was waiting there for me. A straight-forward interface meant that I was just a couple of taps away from viewing all of the pairings for each round. No need to consults a board or for some poor, hoarse bastard to shout 80+ names every couple of hours. It also meant that if our match finished early or we were off on a break that we could wander off and do our own thing and check the app every so often to see if the new pairings were up. Josh and myself were both really impressed with BCP and would heartily recommend it to tournament and event organisers – it just saves so much hassle for player and organiser alike.
I managed to place 28th overall by the end of the day with 2 2-0 wins and 2 0-2 losses. After my first loss in the very first round I was dithering somewhat about seeing the whole event through as I was feeling a wee bit conflicted about attending the tournament in the first place and didn't want to spend the day taking an absolute pounding when I could be linking in with some of the folks we wanted to talk to. But I powered through.
Having attended tournaments for other games prior to this event, I have to say that competitive gaming can quite often bring out the worst in some people. That, and it attracts some people who are just wankers. That was far from the case with the Grand Clash. All of my opponents were absolute gentlemen, and everybody else I spoke to was very amicable. It was very much an event where everyone simply seemed to be happy to be involved in one of their favourite games on such a large scale. This may have been helped slightly by the fact that everyone got some cool stuff just for participating, though rewards got better the higher you placed. I got some fancy activation tokens, a playmat, and 5 promo cards. Very swish.
I learned a lot from playing with guys that participate in a lot more organised play for the game than I – both in some discrepancies with the rules, and also in terms of examining my own tactics and playstyle. I have a greater understanding of the game than I did before, and definitely see value in attending organised play events both from a learning experience, and also for meeting people that enjoy the game as much as – perhaps more so – than you do. Winning is nice, but being able to take part is great. No, I'm not joking.
'Where did Josh place?' I hear you ask.
I'm not allowed to talk about that.
Age of Sigmar: Champions - Playfusion
We also had the opportunity on the Friday to play Age of Sigmar: Champions, a new collectible card game from Playfusion, the people behind the Lightseekers card game. Final art for the game is currently being finalised so we weren't allowed to take any pictures of the demo copy that we played. This was a game that all three of us were very keen to check out as all of us are rather fond of card games, and I'm also an Age of Sigmar fanboy.
Charlotte and myself sat down with Mark – one of the designers – to play a game. Naturally, Charlotte played a Chaos deck, whilst I played the righteous – and infinitely better – forces of Order.
One of the things that people kept asking me about the game was 'Is it like Lightseekers?' And I can now answer that more fully, having played both.
Of course there are similarities; both games use the rotating card mechanic, both require the player to reduce their rival's health track to zero, and there are some similar design cues in card effects. But they do play and feel like very distinct games.
AoS: Champions has players each pick 4 champions from their chosen Grand Alliance (Order, Chaos, Death or Destruction), each of which occupies a lane of the controlling player's choosing. Players also select 4 'blessing' cards, powerful buffs and spells, and randomly places one of these beneath each of their champions, face down. Each player has a 30-card deck that contains units to be deployed in lanes, spells and actions, and they may include up to 3 copies of a specific card in their deck.
The lanes and the summoning in of units really gives the game the feel of a battlefield. I was initially concerned that the 'rotate' mechanic – which is used to trigger blessings – would be confusing, but it's actually quite intuitive once you see it in action. If anything, we're more excited for the game having played a little bit of it than we were beforehand.
Watch this space for more coverage of Age of Sigmar: Champions as release approaches.
Watch this space for the next part of our UKGE 2018 roundup where we'll talk about all we got up to on the Saturday.