Photograph of Hall 1 of the Birmingham NEC. There are many stalls surrounded by thousands of people. A big sign for Warhammer is visible.

In Games: UK Games Expo 2018 (Saturday)

Here’s Jobby’s report from day 2, Saturday, at the UK Games Expo 2018…

Saturday rolled round and Sarah and I were up bright and early. A change in our getting ready routine meant that we were out of the door earlier than Friday, the drive was a little less scenic and we made it to the NEC a little after the doors had opened. Of course, we didn’t need to queue for our lanyards this time we got to just stroll right in.

Sarah had promised we would play bigger games today, and definitely no cutesy dinosaur games! With optimism in my heart I strode forth into Hall 1…

Luxor

First up, Sarah really wanted to check out Luxor. A SdJ nominee that has players racing to the middle of a spiral to dig up a sarcophagus. The game is driven by the players playing cards from their hands to choose how to move their archaeologists, although this is not so simple. In Luxor, a player may only play the left- or right-most card from their five card hand. They will then draw a replacement and insert this dead-centre into their hand.

This had the interesting affect that it is possible to plan a couple of turns ahead. It can also make it frustrating as two cards need to be played to get that new card to the outside, and sometimes one of those two cards is useless!

Luxor being played. Meeples are moving around a spiral of tiles towards central sarcophogi.
Luxor in action. There’s some nice things to like in this game but is it SdJ material?

I’ve heard criticisms that the card play mechanic would be too complicated for children to understand. Well, we played this game with a dad and his seven year old daughter (they were strangers to us). After a couple of turns she totally understood which cards she could play and where her new card should go. In fact, she was the first round the board and came in second place (with only the littlest of help from her dad!).

I’d say this is definitely a fine game to play with your kids. I’m not sure it has anything that makes me want it, though.

Petrichor

Ah! Petrichor! Both Sarah and I wanted to demo this so we bee-lined our way to their stand. No-one seemed to be doing demos, though, so I picked up the rulebook and Sarah and I sat down. Well, that brought one of the team over to us to explain the game! A random guy joined us and we were all set for a three player game.

Annoyingly, during the rules explanation, some very loud man was extolling the virtues of Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 very loudly to someone else nearby. Days of Ire was set up right next to Petrichor so I was having trouble hearing the rules which was making me angry. I was sorely tempted to shout at the loud guy but I managed to keep the anger in check and concentrated on the game at hand.

A demo game of Petrichor in action. There are blue, yellow and red beads on tiles which show flowers.
It looks cute and fluffy but Petrichor is brutal (see also Photosynthesis)

In Petrichor, players take the part of clouds wanting to rain on plants (really!). A 3×3 grid of tiles represents the crops and cute little cardboard clouds sit on top of them. Players play cards to take actions that result in them placing their coloured beads into the clouds or taking them out and placing them on the tiles. Players also vote on what will happen when the round ends with their choice of votes dictated by what action they took.

It looks lovely and very pretty. At it’s heart, though, this is a brutal and unforgiving area control game. Players continuously jostle for having the prime number of beads on a tile (interestingly this is not always the most). It is possible to crash your cloud into another player’s thereby merging the contents into a single cloud which both players control. Players are also given some control over which rounds scoring will happen so if you’re in a good spot you can force the scoring.

We very much enjoyed this and bought a copy there and then complete with the expansion (a bit unusual for us). Then came a surprise – that noisy fellow who made me angry was Dávid Turczi, one of the designers of the game! David Chircop, the other designer, had just shown up and the pair of them signed our game for us! I would like to have talked with Turczi as I had just listened to the 5 Games for Doomsday podcast with him on but a group of fanboys had surrounded him so we moved on.

Potion Explosion

Once again we ran into Rob and Kelly. We were all eager to play Century: Eastern Wonders but there was a long queue. In the same area Kelly spied Potion Explosion which she was very interested in trying. Sarah and I were quite happy to give it a go so after a short wait we sat down to a demo.

The game is a kind of Candy Crush style of affair. Marbles are present in columns on a ramp. Players have cardboard potion bottles in front of them with holes on coloured bands. On a turn, a player takes a marble from the ramp and places it in the same coloured hole on one of their potions. When all the holes on a potion are filled it is complete. Players score points for completing sets of potions. Simple!

Photo of a person's hand selecting a marble from a column of marbles. There are red, yellow, blue and black marbles.
Mixing marbles to make potions in Potion Explosion

The ‘explosion’ bit comes from what happens after a player takes a marble. Obviously the marbles higher up the ramp will slide down into the hole. If this causes two marbles of the same colour to bump into each other then an explosion occurs! The player can then take all of those exploded marbles which also includes all the ones of the same colour in the group.

I was crap at this. There’s no two ways about it. Somehow, at the end of the game I had completed four potions where everyone else had done eight or something. It was a quite amusing but obviously I need to work on my exploding skills! Kelly really enjoyed it (and I think she won) so that was good for her.

Pikoko

Mooching around we next came across this weird little trick taking game that seemed to be getting some hype. Players have a hand of cards that they can’t see but, for some inexplicable reason, form the tail of a peacock. Players bet on how many tricks their neighbours will win and how many their own hand will win (based on the bets the other players made). Then a simple trick taking game ensues although each player plays the cards of the player to their left. Final scoring is about how accurate the wagers at the beginning were.

Photo of card backs fanned out to look like peacock feathers.
Spend the entire game looking at a peacock’s butt in Pokoko

This game suffered from being explained to us in a terrible way. The demo guy asked if everyone knew what trick taking games were and was greeted by blank stares from Sarah and Kelly. He then gave the quickest definition ever which did nothing to reduce the blankness of the stares. Unperturbed he told us to make our wagers without really explaining why or what was going to happen. Essentially we just place a random number of tokens in front of each others peacocks.

By the end of the game I think I had just about worked out what as happening but the girls really still didn’t have a clue. It was a shame because with a proper explanation it might have been good. As it is, there’s no way I’d ever buy this game.

Best moment of the game? Someone saying “Hold onto your tail!” to Sarah. You had to be there.

Cobra Paw

So, after sliding into silly little games again (what happened to the meatier games I was promised) we were dragged over to Cobra Paw by Kelly. “Ooh! It’s got a cat dressed as a ninja! Ooh, ooh!”

In this daft game two dice are rolled by a player. Everyone then shoots out their ‘paws’ to touch the matching token. Whoever gets there first gets the token. First to six tokens wins. Simples. Really simples.

Dominoes with symbols on next to the game box. Two dice with similar symbols are off to one side.
Who has the fastest paws? Cobra Paw!

The slight snag is that the tokens you’ve taken aren’t safe! If they get rolled then a quick pawed player can claim it from you!

This was a surprisingly hilarious five minute game. Particularly funny was the fact that Kelly (who wanted to play it) didn’t get a single token.

Iquazú

Chris from Imagination Gaming (who run the Family Zone) had told us to try out Iquazú as “It looks like it’s for kids but it really isn’t!”. Over to the Haba stand we walked and were given a quick rundown on the rules.

Basically a group of people, who look like different coloured versions of the people from Avatar, need to hide their gems in a waterfall so the bad guys don’t get them. Their friendly lizard stands at the top of the waterfall to stop the water and let them place the gems.

It’s a strange back story but results in a beautiful looking board made of tokens hidden under strips of cascading water and a frame that moves along as the game progresses. Visually, it’s amazing.

A game of Iquazui in action. There are strips of card painted like a waterfall with a gap in the middle. Gems are place in the gap.
The very beautiful Iquazú. The window into the waterfall moves across as the game plays.

The gameplay is satisfying, too. Cards in players hands match the symbols on the board. Players play a number of cards to lay a gem in their colour on the appropriate spot – the further to the right then the more cards are needed. When the current column is filled up it is scored vertically by majority. Then majority in each row earns a bonus tile.

It turns out that we got a couple of rules wrong (the above summary is correct) but it gave us a good enough feel to know that we really enjoyed it. We couldn’t get over how lovely the board looked! So nice to have a beautiful game that also plays well.

Chocolate Factory

Rob and Kelly headed off for some end-of-the-day shopping. Sarah reminded me that there was a demo of a prototype that I was interested in trying. We had seen it was located right at the back of a stand so, with the crowds died down a bit we headed over.

Chocolate Factory is about, you guessed it, running a chocolate factory. Being a lover of Eurogames and a lover of chocolate I had to try this out! Essentially players factories are represented by little boards. Each round players draft factory upgrades and hire personnel and then run their factories, converting cubes into other cubes to fulfill contracts. It is unashamedly an engine building game.

A prototype of the game Chocolate Factory. Most components are bits of paper with some wooden cubes.
The working prototype of Chocolate Factory. Those cubes are changed into other colour cubes which will fulfill contracts.

The cute bit is that the player boards have a groove down the centre. Players push squares of card along this with their wooden cubes on. The factory upgrades are placed either side of the cubes and indicate what can happen to a cube when it reaches that point. This is obviously meant to give the feel of conveyor belts with machinery either side working on the confectionery, and it does give this feel.

It was a good demo, although Sarah was looking particularly frazzled so we only played a couple of rounds. From those couple of rounds the impression I got was that this game might be a bit unbalanced. My factory seemed to be operating far more effectively than Sarah’s, giving me the potential to score lots more points. I couldn’t tell how much chance there would be for Sarah to be able to swing things back into her favour, but it felt like this game could suffer with runaway winner syndrome. I will keep an eye on this as it could be something I’m interested in but the balance needs to be sorted out.

With another day of gaming under our belts we headed home to some yummy dinner at Ma Parkin’s.

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