Jobby retells his experiences on the Friday at the UK Games Expo 2018…
That time of year rolled around once again. This year I was pretty stoked and really looking forward to UKGE. I’d even made a list of games that I wanted to demo! After the usual pain of queuing for ages to collect our pre-booked tickets (seriously, guys, this needs to be improved!) we joined the excited crowd at the top of the stairs and waited for the doors to open.
Open they did. The mob shuffled forward as fast as the space (and stairs!) would allow. Frankly I’m surprised nobody scream “Charge!”. Actually, I’m surprised it wasn’t me! There weren’t any Space Marines©®™ to dodge this year. There was just a wide open entrance with a few volunteers eyeing people’s passes as they shuffled past.
And then we were in. Sarah and I were stood in NEC Hall 1 being buffeted by bodies and already barely able to hear each other because of the noise. “What do you want to look at first?” she asked. Demonstrating my incredible decisiveness, I simply shrugged. She took control and marched us off to look at Tao Long: The Way of the Dragon which was actually top of my list.
Tao Long: The Way of the Dragon
I’ve actually had my eye on this game for a while since noticing it on Board Game Geek. The premise is that each player controls a dragon and is trying to kill the other player’s dragon. One half of the board is a play area with the dragons being represented with three tiles. When a dragon moves the rest of it body follows in a way reminiscent of the old video game Centipede. Very satisfying.
The other half of the board has a mancala with the actions in a circle. To perform an action simply pick up a pile of tokens and move round the circle dropping of one token at a time. The action you drop your last token on is the one you can do. This re-distribution effect means that the choices you make directly restrict the choices available to your opponent. Very interesting.
This demo didn’t go too well, though. We expressed our interest in playing and so another demo-er, who apparently knew the game better, was summoned. Alas, his rules explanation left a bit to be desired. Often during our game he would interrupt and declare that a move we just made was illegal because we hadn’t first done something which he hadn’t mentioned until that point. Frustrating.
We understand that our first demo of the Expo is normally a bit iffy. While we didn’t immediately purchase this it hasn’t dropped off my radar and I will probably come back to it in the future.
We trotted off to find another game to demo. This time we tried one from Sarah’s list: Orc-Lympics. The blurb she’d read described a game where players would be competing in events such as stubborn donkey pushing and table flipping. This sounded like some daft fun so we sat down to eagerly play.
The rules explanation went well: the game is a simple card drafting game like Sushi Go! where players are trying to build a team of Orcs, Elves, etc by taking a card and passing the rest on. Chosen cards are kept secret. After the draft players then choose cards from their hand to play against an event with the highest relevant score winning. Players only get to re-use a card if they fail to come first or second in an event.
The art on the cards was fun and the races did what you would expect. Orcs are good at physical challenges, Elves are more dexterous, etc. However, the types of events were completely lost. I was just playing cards against a red event or green event, and I was essentially just colour matching. It was OK but there are better 5 minute fillers out there.
Talking of better 5 minute fillers, next demo was Okiya. This is essentially a two player abstract game with Japanese inspired art. On their turn a player takes a tile and replaces it with a Geisha token of their colour. Once a player has made a line of four or a 2×2 block of their colour they win. Alternatively, if a player cannot make a legal move then their opponent wins.
The interesting bit is that the tile that a player takes dictates what their opponent can take. Each tile has one of four plants on it and one of four ‘poetic’ devices on it (bird, banner, rain or sun). If a player takes a tile with a cherry tree and a bird then their opponent must then take either a cherry tree tile or a bird tile. Beautifully simple but amaingly deep. We both really enjoyed this one!
Kamisado (or Megasado)
To complete a hat-trick of games that had a thing-you-do-directly-dictates-your-opponent’s-move mechanice, we sat down to a game of Kamisado. Actually, we sat down to Megasado which is nearly the same thing but played on a board with two more colours.
In this, each player is trying to get one of their towers to the starting line of their opponent. Towers can only be moved forwards or diagonally forwards but as far a the player desires (no jumping or moving through, though). The catch (you knew it was coming) is that each tower has a colour marked on top and the board is made up of coloured squares. The coloured square that a player’s piece finishes on is the coloured piece their opponent must play on their next turn.
Yeah, it was another of those “Argh! I want to move here but then my opponent can move that piece and win. How do I get my opponent to finish on a blue square so I can move my blue tower?” kind of games. Really quite interesting.
After a spot of lunch we bumped into a couple of friends of ours, Rob and Kelly. This was their first Expo and, being old hands at this, we thought it only fair to accompanying them around a bit. Plus it meant there were four of us if we wanted to play something with more players!
Sarah had seen a cute dinosaur game about feeding diplodocuses whilst running away from t-rexes. Rob and I rolled our eyes at the idea of playing this but Kelly was excited. The demo-er happily explained the rules whilst pointing out “this is a children’s game”. The girls got stuck in.
Actually, there seemed to be a bit of game there and I’d be happy to play it with any kid who wanted a game. As advertised, the dinos were very cute, too, which helps!
After dinos, the girls had been eyeing up Bunny Kingdom. It looked kind of cute and had Richard Garfield listed as a designer so I was game (I really enjoy his Treasure Hunter from last year). Rob and I hoped ‘cute’ wasn’t becoming a trend for the day but we sat down and a demo-er explained (very quickly!) the rules to us.
It’s another drafting game with players take two cards and passing the rest on. The bulk of cards have co-ordinates where the players will place their bunnies. Bunnies on the board create fiefs which are one or more squares with bunnies on that are joined together. Some cards do special things like let players put bunnies in other places, add castles to the board or they score points at the end of the game.
After a round of drafting scoring is done. Scoring consists of counting the number of castle towers in a fief and multiplying that by the number of different resources present in that fief. Resources being wood, fish and carrots (of course!). The game goes on for four rounds and then a final scoring of those special cards is done.
This game has a real split-personality. The drafting of co-ordinate cards and the adding of bunnies and castles to the map is fun. Chancing a slightly out-there bunny with hopes of joining up to him later is great. Also, building up your castles and trying to take over more types of resources is satisfying. Then there’s the scoring…
After the first round each player has got one or two fiefs. Scoring is quick and simple. Come rounds three and four and there are a lot of splinter fiefs which are small but still score. The board has 100 squares on it. Trying to work out which squares are linked can prove tricky. Then checking how many resources each fief contains and holding that number in your head whilst working out how many towers are in that fief gets a bit much.
We settled into a rhythm of one player working along the rows and then stopping to count a fief when they encountered a bunny with another player watching a pointing out mistakes as they happened. It got very time consuming towards the end of the game and totally took away from the fun, cutesy drafting that went on before.
Oh, and then at the end of the game we had to go through dozens of special scoring cards. A lot of these proved tricky and fiddly to score. For example, score 12 points if you have at least nine castles. Well, do I? I know, let’s count the board again! Now score 2 points for each carrot in a fief you own. How many? Best get counting again!
Alas, the scoring totally killed this game for us. We won’t be buying this.
Starting to feel a bit tired, we decided to demo one more game. Again, a cute game was found. Again, it involved dinosaurs! This time we would all work as a team to help a group of four sweet little dinos run away from the lava boiling out of four volcanos. As well as avoiding getting burnt, they needed to collect dino eggs before making their way to the safety of a mountain.
This was actually a fun little game. The game was controlled by drawing tiles from a bag. Draw a lava and it would have to be added to the lava coming from the appropriate volcano which was indicated by coloured flowers round the base of each volcano with matching flowers on the tiles. Then, depending on the symbol on the tile either another tile would be drawn or a dino could move. Often a dino of a particular colour was not allowed to move which made things a little more difficult.
Drama happened partway through the game when we drew a tile we’d not seen before. It turned out to be a meteorite! Worse, it flattened one of the poor little dinos! We all felt very sad at this and a sense of urgency crept in.
Obviously this is a kids’ game so we got the rest of the dinos to safety along with most of the eggs. I did spy there were some advanced rules. I can’t say we’re likely to play this again but if we did it’s nice to know there is a ‘hard mode’.
With that game done we parted ways from Rob and Kelly promising we would meet up again on Saturday. The girls vowed to played more complex games the next day. Sarah and I did a little shopping and then it was off to the night’s accommodation.