UKGE 2019 Roundup Part 1
By Ben Porter
Looking back on UKGE 2019 as I type this article in the studio, everything seems like a bit of a blur.
The convention was undoubtedly busier than last year. Attendance was reportedly up this year by 18.5%, which is fantastic news for all of us; it's an indicator that the growth of our hobby is showing no signs of slowing down, and that more and more people are getting involved. The show itself had been upsized to accomodate this anticipated surge in growth, with a larger chunk of Hall 2 dedicated to exhibitor space than last year, and a portion of Hall 3 seeing some usage, too.
But what did we think of it all? What did we get up to? What are the games you should be keeping an eye on?
We set out early on Thursday morning (7 am early) so as to have enough time to dump our stuff at the accomodation and be able to make the start of the press preview in time. And we were certainly glad that we did.
The press event this year was massive compared to last. Where last year they set up a sort of temporary, car boot sale-style snapshot of the exhibitors that were attending in the opening gaming area of Hall 2, this year they had to hold the press event in Hall 3. It took us close to 3 hours to get around everything, and we actually got to try a couple of games this year whereas last year we really just swapped business cards with people and took pictures.
Without a doubt the standout for me at the preview event was Brain Games. They seem to be a company that has a knack for putting out games that are very simple and streamlined, but use traditional - even basic - components in novel ways. I was blown away by Ice Cool last year at UKGE (late to the party, I know) and have yet to be disappointed by this company. The two games we were most eager to get a look at from them were Snowman Dice and Team3. Snowman Dice is a fantastic, wee dice chucker where players race to build a snowman using their dice and getting him to the North Pole by pushing him across the tablet without him falling over - all whilst other players are flicking their "snowball" dice at you. Its fast, it's all beautiful blue monochrome, and it's mental. I absolutely loved it, but I can see other people maybe not being too sold on the elasticity of the game's rules and structure.
I think Team3 is going to be one of the big hits of this year. (It completely sold out over the weekend, for one.) It's a quirky little party game where one player has to describe a specific arrangement of the game's Tetris-style coloured pieces shown on a card that only they can see - but they can only use gestures to describe it. One player can see these gestures and must verbally try to relay instructions to the blindfolded player who must do their best to carry out the physically arranging of the shapes. It was a blast just watching Rich, Iain (The Giant Brain, Brainwaves) and Josh playing the game. I guess it remains to be seen how problematic the specific player count will be to the game and whether or not the designers have incorporated any workarounds, alternate game modes, etc, but it certainly has the bare bones of a clever, fun game that could be played with just about anyone.
It was great seeing Curt from Smirk and Dagger Games and Marc Spectre from the Grand Gamers Guild in person for the first time after having correspondence with them from across the pond. We chatted to Curt for quite a bit about the new edition of Cutthroat Caverns which he's really excited about, and got a quick overview of some of the games he'd brought with him, which we got to try out later in the weekend.
We spoke to a couple of the guys from iELLO for a bit, and they were kind enough to give us review copies of Little Town and Little Battle, both of which we'll be covering in due course. They had a beautiful looking prototype for a game called Ishtar with them, which has been developed by Bruno Cathala. The game takes place in the desert, and the aim is to create the lush Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the middle of the barren desert. I expect this is going to be a good'un judging from Cathala's track record, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it.
About two and a half hours later we felt that we'd covered about enough for one evening. We managed to talk to most of the people we had in mind before the event, but we didn't stop at every single table - which should give you an idea of just how big the preview was compared with previous years. Afterwards, we boosted over to Resort World for food before heading home to prepare for the next day.
Friday was a mad dash for the Games Workshop stand to try out the new Contrast paints range. We got there just minutes after the doors opened and every table was already packed with people of all ages eager to give the new paints a go. Eventually, Josh and myself managed to squeeze ourselves into a space at one of the painting tables.
There were huge boxes of easy-to-build Space Marines and Stormcast Eternals; the poster boys of the Warhammer sci-fi and fantasy universes, respectively. They had been primed alternately in the new, white rattlecan primers; one a sort of magnolia (Wraithbone) and the other an eggshell colour (Grey Seer). Josh had a go at painting a Wraithbone-coloured Marine whilst I went for a Stormcast coloured with the more drab Grey Seer as I wanted to try out the grittier, more muted tones that I tend towards with my models.
I found some of Contrast paints far more effective than others, which really cemented my suspicion that rather than radically changing my own painting technqiue completely, I would rather be adding another tool to my toolkit. I wasn't particularly keen on the Black Templar paint, for example, and I found the Snakebite Leather was too yellowy. Guilliman Flesh was fantastic, and really did hold to the concept of the paint being a basecoat and wash in one step - I can see a lot of people being keen on using that one to paint armies with a lot of skin on show (Witch Aelves, Blood Reavers, etc) quickly and effectively. It'll also be very useful for blending combined with traditional painting techniques. Blood Angels Red was fantastic to work with, too; it went on so smoothly and gave such a rich, red finish.
I'm all for anything that lets people get more painted miniatures on the table and makes painting more approachable in general, and there's no doubt in my mind that the Contrast range will achieve both of those things. But it's not going to render existing paints obsolete.
Whilst we were at the Games Workshop stand, I took the opportunity to grab the Warhammer Community event exclusive Objective Markers and dice. I'm such a sucker for a shiny. I also picked up the new Maledictions book, which is an anthology of horror stories set in the worlds of Warhammer that was published earlier this year as part of the new Warhammer Horror fiction range.
We decided that it would be prudent to get our shopping out of the way before the weekend crowd descended. Tom and myself each picked up one of the Dragonborn Ascendant promo miniatures for the upcoming The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms tabletop game from the Modiphius stand, I picked up a game for Charlotte's birthday that shall not be named, and a unit of Tully Sworn Shields for the A Song of Ice and Fire: Miniatures Game. Not a bad wee haul at all.
Drawn to the Flame had their first ever live recording of their Arkham Horror LCG-centric podcast. Peter has been one of our biggest cheerleaders over the past year, and both he and Frank are a great couple of guys, so it would have been remiss of us not to attend.
Asmodee were decent enough to let the boys spoil a couple of cards from un upcoming expansion to the Arkham Horror LCG, which meant very little to me as I've been out of the loop for about a year now and some new mechanics have been introduced in that time. Nevertheless, I thought it was cool that the guys got to show off something of the game that their podcast is completely dedicated to. I'd like to see Asmodee utilising Drawn to the Flame a lot more than they do, and I've always found it a little strange that they don't use the podcast for more reveals and such; lord knows they have a large - and rabid - enough following. All in all, Peter and Frank did really well. They're a really entertaining duo to listen to, they have great chemistry, and strike a great balance between humour and a deep, critical insight into the game they love. If you're remotely interested in the Arkham Horror LCG you should absolutely go and listen to them.
After Drawn to the Flame we had a small amount of time to mull about the halls before we had to rush back for the Warhammer Preview. There was a little bit of debate about the strict "no cameras" policy in effect - I myself was cautioned by a member of staff when she saw the camera around my neck. The Games Workshop staff claimed that it was because they want the preview events to remain exclusive to attendees - a sort of intimate moment with the fans, if you will. But there is surely a component to the policy whereby they want to be the first to release the information on the web, which makes you wonder just how wide they think our audiences are. Personally, I think it's probably for the best, as without such a policy the event would be a sea of camera phones with folks craning necks to try and get a proper look at what's on the screen.
There was nothing massively exciting revealed at the preview. Obviously, the company wants the new Contrast range to be in the spotlight for this quarter, which is understandable. A new expansion was revealed for Blackstone Fortress, a new Palantine Enforcer faction for Necromunda (the polis), Wood Elves for Blood Bowl, and the Corvus Cabal for the upcoming Warcry game. The star of the show was undoubtedly the Corvus Cabal; a sect of Chaos-worshipping assassins from the Age of Sigmar setting who wear crow masks and feather cloaks. They were brimming with detail with some really dynamic poses - a stellar range of miniatures.
The Q and A component of the seminar was probably, for me, the most interesting part. Tom, who once worked for Games Workshop, noted that it was a far cry from the image and tone of the company 6 or 7 years ago, where they seemed to behave as though they were the only games company that had ever existed. There were a lot of daft questions along the lines of "Are you working on this thing that I want?" which they obviously had to brush off, but we were also offered a lot of insight into the way the company now works. The upcoming Sisters of Battle release, for example, was a direct result of feed back they were given from the results of the last community survey they conducted. We can also expect 1 new battletome for each Grand Alliance in Age of Sigmar before the year is out - 4 in total.
We finished the day off at the Smirk and Dagger Games stand. Curt very kindly talked me through a game of Shobu whilst we waited for Josh. I'll need to play it a couple more times before I make my mind up on it, but Curt abolsutely skelped me at it. I found I was constantly having to remind myself that pieces are pushed off of the board, not captured as they are in chess or draughts. For such a simple game, there's a deceptively steep learning curve. I can see it being a popular game with hnefatafl and chess enthusiasts in particular.
Once Josh arrived, we draughted in some additional players in the form of Lawrence from the Dice Roll Cafe and his friends, and sat down for a game of The Menace Among Us, which would ultimately turn out to be a favourite for all of us from across the whole show. It's a very streamlined take on hidden traitor games like Battlestar Galactica and can be played in about 40 minutes even with the higher player counts. The game art is very reminiscent of the zany cartoon aliens from things like Treasure Planet and Rick and Morty; it almost literally oozes colour and character (Josh played a cephalopoid cook). Classes and character decks are still there, and we're trying to restart our engines without running our oxygen supply too low, but the game is anything but clunky.
What's really exhilirating about The Menace Among us is the moment when one of the players grabs what we dubbed 'The Pistol of Democracy'. When that happens, a vote must be called on which of the crew the rest of the crew thinks is a Menace (traitor). I may or may not have instigated both of the votes that occured during our game and been killed in the second one. As it happened, I was a good guy and killing me costs us the game. Things went downhill fast on our playthrough. I'm eagerly looking forward to playing this title again. I'm a little bit concerned about how player elimination could affect games where somebody gets taken out early on and the game ends up running longer, but The Menace Among Us could potentially be the hidden traitor game.
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon...