Hot Games

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Birth of a new game group

I’ve been playing in a group in Swindon since September 2006. We play every Tuesday at the home of one of the group, although at one stage we played twice a week. The group works well: nobody is up their own a*se (important), we generally like the same sort of games, everyone is open to new games and we all win roughly the same percentage of games. How did I come to join the group? Via Boardgamegeek – I found a Swindon-based gamer and asked him if there was a group in Swindon.

Roll forward, and there are occasional enquiries on BGG about gaming in the area. I must admit that, as a natural miserable git, if I have spotted them, I usually just ignore them. However a forum post this year by James Mullard called ‘Swindon?’ seemed to generate some traction and it appeared a new group in Swindon was a distinct possibility. Several local-ish gamers chipped in and there seemed to be a genuine interest in getting something started. The two drivers of the forum post were Tony (fellonmyhead), long-standing Tuesday night gamer, and Jess (castaway). Somehow I volunteered (not like me!) to check out a couple of potential venues.

I ended up visiting a couple of local hostelries – the Sandgate (my pub of choice back in 1976, aged 16) and the Check Inn at Wroughton. To cut a long story short, the Sandgate is a sh*thole, and the Check Inn is the total opposite. As a Fullers pub, the Check Inn not only boasts a superb range of real ales (London Pride, Eldridge Pope etc), but also does excellent food as well. Tony the landlord lets us use the dining room for free each Monday and seems very happy with the arrangement. The extra food and drink sales on a quiet Monday means that it is a win-win all round.

We held our first meeting on Monday, March 21st, advertised entirely through the Geek and word of mouth (as it still is today), and 11 people turned up. We have now met 13 times including on 3 bank holiday Mondays. The highest turnout thus far is 14, the lowest 5 (on a bank holiday). We average around 9 a session, most weeks being 8-10. Already a nucleus of attendees has formed who tend to come along each week.

The group tends to play Euros, usually light-medium weight, although we have also played Power Grid and some Wallace titles. Games played recently include Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Fresco, Dixit, Keltis, Forbidden Island, Kingsburg, Ingenious, London, Power Grid, Seven Wonders, Braggart and Alien Frontiers, to name just a small selection.

A good feature of the group is that we try to mix it up so we play with different people and everyone seems to enjoy the sessions. The group is very informal which I think works well. There is no ‘leader’ or ‘organiser’ – it’s just a case of turning up and playing. I’m sure the group will continue to thrive – if you’re reading this and fancy joining us, we meet at the Check Inn, Wroughton every Monday from 7pm-ish to around 10.45pm.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

UK Games Expo – mixed feelings

I love the concept of the UK Games Expo, but seem to enjoy it less and less each year. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this is the case, but as a boardgamer, I’m increasingly seeing this as an optional visit rather than a destination event. So what are the positives and negatives of the event?


• A range of games retailers (but I wish there were more)
• A good smattering of small publishers – this to me is probably the most positive thing about the Expo
• A lot of demo tables (even more so for miniatures)
• A good mixture of serious gamers and families/casual gamers
• Er, that’s about it.


• The venue is now stretched – the Expo needs to move. Some of the outer areas suffer markedly in footfall terms.
• No significant new boardgames released – without a Treefrog or Ragnars release there was no “must go” reason to attend
• No price competition between the retailers – the prices were all very samey across the board. A bit of competition on hot games like Seven Wonders, Dixit and Dominion would be a start!
• The format is a bit tired – a bit of innovation is required.
• The entry fee - £8 is too high, and must put off casual gamers/families.


• Refreshments – limited and over-priced, but at least Ladypool Road is nearby (we went to Imran’s after the show)

So what changes would I make? In no particular order:

• Change venue (though keep it in Birmingham if possible)
• Tie it into cons to get the regular/serious gamers in (of all persuasions). Talk to the Manorcon and Midcon guys and arrange an “Expo-con” at the same venue.
• Persuade more retailers to come along – maybe tie their costs into a %sales basis to reduce their exposure; encourage discounting and price competition
• Twist the arms of all local publishers to release new games – make this a de facto pre-Essen roll-out for UK publishers. Invite German designers such as Reiner Knizia and Michael Schacht.
• Encourage small publishers – maybe by discounting
• Promote tie-ins with complimentary hobbies – such as comics (a la Essen).

So, despite all the above, did I enjoy the Expo this year? The answer was yes. Find of the day was undoubtedly Totemo from Surprised Stare Games. Yes I know it was there last year, but I only tried it this year. An excellent abstract strategy game that will go down really well with the family.

I also bought Braggart – not my favourite type of card-game,
but I know it will be well received by both gamers and family. Therefore a good buy – the 2 young ladies who demo’ed it also won me over with their enthusiasm for the game. I also purchased KingBrick – a 2-player flicking game. As a Subbuteo addict in my youth, this simple straight-forward game was a no-brainer and, at £10, also a bargain. I’m sure it won’t see much table-time, but I still couldn’t resist it. A couple of other small purchases completed the day.

I hope the Expo continues to grow and thrive, but I feel that it needs a shot in the arm to move forward.