So it's Ruarok's birthday this month and as he seems to have a plentiful supply of socks and hand knitted jumpers it was a puzzle to know what to get him. Then I remembered that UK Games Expo was taking place over the last week end in May. "Why don't I get him a ticket for that?" thinks I. But he'll need somewhere to stay and how will he get down there? Oh well guess I would have to go too then......
So we set off from a very damp Arbroath on Thursday afternoon past and arrived at the NEC complex at Birmingham just after 9pm. Our hotel, the Premier Inn was just a short walk from the Hilton Metrople where the event was being held so after dumping our bags we headed down to the Hilton to suss out what the venue was like. Not much of the gaming halls were open that night, we were too late for the sneak peak event but the Marquee was open so we had a couple of games of Magic before heading back to our room to get some kip before the main event started on Friday.
I'll admit to feeling like a kid in a sweetie shop when we turned up at the venue on the Friday morning. The trade stalls wouldn't open until 2pm but already the gaming halls were starting to get busy with gamers setting up tables and also the various tournaments that were running throughout the day. So we picked up our tickets and headed into the Monarch suite where the Board Game Library being run by Thirsty Meeples was being set up. As this was going to take a wee while Ruarok and I set up Commands & Colors Ancients to get some practice in before the Tournament that we were taking part in on the Sunday.
Opening set up for the Battle of Dertosa 215BC bewteen the Carthaginians and the Romans
We had been playing our way through the scenario book of the base set over the past few months, with Ruarok taking the Carthaginians and to be honest I had been on the end of a few hammerings over the last few games (despite killing Hannibal in our refight of Cannae). However, that losing streak came to an end with a satisfying crushing of the Carthaginian Hordes in this game.
Roman superior tactics lead to a wedge being driven into the Carthaginian lines.
The Carthaginians couldn't cope with the Roman push and soon disintegrated
A 6 -2 banner win for the Romans
First boardgame blood of the event to me (I emphasis boardgame as I had been drubbed at Magic the night before).
So by the time we had finished C & C and tidied it away the Board Game Library was up and running. A £10 deposit let you borrow any of the games they had on the shelves and use for as long as you liked. So up and I went and came back with Black Fleet
I had read good reviews about this one and so was keen to try it. Set up was pretty quick and the rules pretty easy to digest. And it looked very pretty
However, I hadn't realised it was a 3-4 player game, but undeterred we gave it a go and it seemed to play well enough with just the 2 of us. Each player owns a merchantman and a pirate ship. The object of the game is to collect enough gold to buy the upgrades for your ships and have enough gold to buy the victory card at the end of the upgrade chain. A deck of cards controlled movement of each ship that the player owned and which also allowed them to move 1 of the Navy ships who could be used to hunt down the opposing players' pirate ships. Fortune cards can also played to grant boons to yourself or hinder opponents whilst your merchantman sailed around the board collecting cargo and delivering it to distant ports whilst trying to avoid the opponent's pirate ship.
Game played really quickly and it didn't take long to get the hang of the rules. After finishing our game we were quickly joined by 2 other gamers (sorry guys, I can't remember your names although one was called David) and we had a full bloodied 4 player game.
The pride of the Sea, Kingsleypark Galleon sets off with it's precious cargo
The busy sea lanes
Shiver me timbers!! The Navy has got us!!
Beware the shark infested waters!
Alas Kingsleypark Galleon didn't sail fast enough to secure for victory in this game although I seemed to recall I came second with Ruarok a distant last.
We cleared up the game and picked up from the Boardgame Library, Thunderstone. Our original table had by now been snapped up so we headed out of the hotel into the Marquee and set up there.
We'd both played the game before (you can read about my thoughts on the game here) so just a few pics of the table set up
My success wasn't going to continue and Ruarok ended up the winner with 34 VP's to my 19
Slightly off putting victory pose by Ruarok
So after a break for lunch the Trade Halls were open and we headed round for a wander. By this time the place was getting really busy and the trade halls were full of eager gamers looking for the next best thing in gaming and getting new games demoed by various games designers.
I had pre-ordered Quartermaster General from Boardgameguru but I didn't pick it up straight away as I didn't want to be bashing the box all round the Expo so we wandered about looking at the many many stalls on display until we eventually found ourselves speaking to Olly of Black Box games who gave us a demo of the Lords of War card game
Oh boy, did we take to this game.
A box contains 2 decks, rules and a playmat so everything you need to play right out of the box. We started playing with Orcs V Dwarves set, and also had a go using the Templars and Undead decks as well. The game plays on a gridded mat with each player playing one card per turn out of their hand of 6 cards. Very simple mechanics but very, very strategic.
Each card has battle arrows marked on it to show in which direction the unit causes damage. Each card has a shield rating which if it takes damage exceeding that rating removes it from the game. Lose 4 commanders or a total of 20 units (out of a deck of 36 cards) and you lose the game.
The Dwarf General, Krod Klouthammer
The opposing generals locked in combat
Yes, that's a female dwarf, who with the assistance of the Dwarf Impaler has killed the Orc Commander, Kragdish Blackmaw
The Orc General, Gonke Longtooth, falls to the crushing blows of the Dwarf hammers
Unless it is a "support card" ( an archer unit or a spear unit) then each card has to placed adjacent to an enemy unit. And once placed it can be very difficult to withdraw that unit from the board unless it's opponent(s) are all vanquished so card placement on the board is absolutely key and sometimes you just don't pull out of the deck the card that has the right combination of battle arrows to secure that crucial kill.
This time it's Templars Vs Undead
The Deluxe battle map - the sets come with a paper mat
We really, really liked this game and vowed to return the next day to part with some cash once we could agree on what we would buy.
So we moved on, I picked up my Quartermaster General and then we headed back into the Monarch Suite to see what other game we could pick up from the Board Game Library. I let Ruarok choose this time so after speaking to one of the Thirsty Meeple guys, on his recommendation Ruarok came back with Star Realms by White Wizard Games.
Ruarok has played the Ascension deck building game on his phone quite a lot so it was no surprise to learn that this game has been co-designed by one of the designers of that game. Very similar mechanics, each player starts off with a fixed number of starting cards and then draws from a common deck of cards to form their own deck, a "trade row" of 5 cards is placed down the middle from which playerc can buy cards to add to their deck and then uses the abilities of the various ships and bases depicted on the cards to try and reduce their opponent's "authority" total from 50 to 0. Again nice clean mechanics, I got the hang of the rules pretty quickly and after discovering their is an app of the game for the iPad quickly got it downloaded once we got back in a wi-fi zone.
Our evening session saw us return Star Realms back to the Library and withall the tables in the Monarch suite full we headed out to the Marquee to open up Qaurtermaster General.
This is a no dice (so definite thumbs up from me for that) card driven game recreating the whole of WW2 which can be played (once you are familiar with the rules in about 90 minutes).
For 2 - 6 players, each player plays 1 (or more) of the major Axis or Allied Nations. Each nation has it's own unique deck of cards that allow them to build armies and navies, carry out economic warfare, event cards to give them bonuses and have responses in place to counter enemy events. The game lasts 20 turns and the team with the most victory points at the end of those 20 turns wins.
Of course, there is a lot more to it than that and as the name of the game implies, keeping your units (ground and naval) supplied is key to grabbing the all important supply areas on the board which generate the victory points.
Damn! The Yanks have gained a foothold in Europe!
The British (the beige blocks) help take the fight to the Nazis by expanding in to Scandanavia
Understanding the cards and when best to play them is crucial in this game. You'll never have that build army card in your hand when you need it but if you have the correct event cards in play then this can get round the lack of the appropriate build card and so on.
Good game, despite the fact that Ruarok, as the Allies, was way clear in VP's by the end of 20 turns, with Berlin having fallen to the Russians.
Saturday morning saw us back in the Monarch room and deciding what game to play - my turn to pick this time so I ended up getting Lords of Waterdeep
I really liked this game, particularly as it seemed to play well with 5 players and potentially that is the number of gamers who come round to Kingsleypark Cabin to play games (once Kevin has finished getting beaten to a pulp for this charity boxing match he is in training for).
Set in the D & D city of Waterdeep, it's a questing game whereby you send your minions out into Waterdeep to recruit followers, who help you complete quests, which generate victory points which win you the game. After a slight misreading of the rules which, a chap called Tom, helpfully corrected us on we had a five player game going. Each game lasts 8 rounds, so even with 5 players it can go pretty quick.
The little cubes are your followers which you can recruit from certain areas on the board or by visiting various buildings which can be built by the players, but by visiting another player's building will generate that player a reward either in extra followers of their own, or gold, or victory points.
The strategy is in deciding where to place your followers, as with the exception of Waterdeep Harbour, only one minion (they are called agents in the game) can be placed in each area. The use of intrigue cards help spice up the play and there appear to be a large number of quests that can be attempted thus ensuring that no 2 games will play alike.
One active quest being attempted, the completed ones placed face down on the player's "Tavern card". Some completed quests generate a continuing benefit to the player so they would be placed to the right of the Tavern card.
The mingling horde of followers in Waterdeep - orange being the fighters, black, the rogues, white being mages and the purple being clerics.
The 8 rounds are up. Time to display which Lord of Waterdeep you have been acting on behalf. Depending on whether you have completed the right type of quests this could score additional victory points for your total.
I really liked this game - so I bought it, yippee!!
The couple that we played Waterdeep with then produced a game that they had picked up at the Bring n Buy. We had a quick nosey at the bring n buy on the Friday but the room was so small and so crowded that we didn't stay long although as much to save my wallet from taking a beating as anything else. The game that they had bought was Elfenland.
An interesting game, whereby the object of the game is to lead your young Elf around the various places on the board proving his worth by picking up the objective tokens of his relevant colour and the Elfest with the Mostest at the end of 4 turns wins.
Movement round the board is regulated by the players placing various tokens which depict the type movement that will be allowed on that road/ track and to be able to use that road/ track you must have a card in your hand which matches the image on the token, for example, you need a dragon card to travel along a road with a dragon token, but also the terrain the road is in may require 2 of the appropriate card to be played. If you are completely stuck you can always discard 3 cards from your hand to travel along a road regardless of the token on it, a fact that I promptly forgot about in the very first turn of the game.
Elfenland board at set-up
I thought I had picked and placed my tokens carefully, but a reckless placement by Ruarok of an obstacle counter (which causes the use of an additional card from your hand) meant that I got stuck after collecting my second token. If I had remembered about the 3 card discard rule I could have collected more but instead had to watch whilst the others picked up 5 or 6 tokens.
I did manage to catch up and by the end of the game we all 4 of us had exactly the same number of tokens collected - 15, but victory went to the player who still had the most cards left in their hand and as I only had 1 card in hand it wasn't me....
We then went off and grabbed a bite to eat from the food arena outside the hotel. It was a beautifully sunny day by this time
The Stormtroopers must have been cooking in their gear.
We spent Saturday afternoon having a wander round the trade halls at which point the guys at Black Box relieved us of some cash when we went to buy our Lords of War stuff, the 3 starter decks, the 2 expansions for the Orc/ Dwarves and Elves/ Lizardmen, the terrain/ weather deck and a Deluxe Battle Mat. Weighed down with this booty we thought we better get a seat somewhere and play a game so we looked around and saw empty seats at the stand being run by Dice Sports who were demoing their new game Z War One.
As you may have guessed from the "Z" in the title, this game is about Zombies. What's different about the game is the claim that this is the "world's first episodic comic book miniature board fame". Basically the background for the game is set out in a comic and then when the storyline gets to a certain point the game kicks in and the boards are set up the characters and zombie hordes are set up
The 4 characters in the base set each have a stat card which details their chances to hit with weapons and unarmed combat and their special abilities. They each have 4 action points that they can spend on movement, combat etc, 1 point to move 1 square, 2 points to sprint 3 squares and so on.
In the demo game, the 4 players were tasked with fueling up the generator in the basement of the UK Games Expo building and then activating the generator allowing the building to be locked down from the zombies trying to infiltrate it. I played the above guy, Sam Morgan, who equipped with a "stink tank" which made him invisible to the Zombies (in this game the Zombies have a smell range, as well as line of sight) and he was tasked with finding the fuel canister for the generator
Ha Ha! Zombies can't touch me - I'm stinky!
The bad ass chick with guns is Kat, who also likes to use her Samurai Swords to chop the Zombies up.
The game was pretty intense with the zombies appearing at randomly determined spawning points and although they did manage to grab a few of the characters, only Kat got bitten and just the once, which meant she had a 50/50 chance of getting infected and she passed her saving throw.
With Sam successfully getting the fuel to the generator room and after Kat stopped rolling about the floor with the zombies, the button was pushed and the characters triumphed!
Good game, some interesting twists on the usual Zombie fair (don't think I have come across a "smell range" before). The base set will be expanded by new story comics which will introduce new characters, baddies and rules. The kickstarter has just started if you want to check it out here. They have already passed their target so it looks like it's going to be a popular one.
After tea, Ruarok and I went looking for a table to try out our new Lords of War loot. The Monarch suite was pretty packed out and as I didn't fancy the Marquee again as I had found it bloody cold the night before we managed to find a table in the Boulevard restaurant which the hotel had made available for gaming during the week end.
We broke out the Elves and Lizardmen decks and their expansion cards and had a number of pretty intense games
Ruarok played the Elves and won the first couple of games. I eventually manged to get a win with the Lizards by building up a block of support cards and giving the units more all round protection. I think in the first couple of games I had been too quick to withdraw units from the battle board back to hand which meant that the units that were left on the board got too easily picked off by the Elves.
Sunday saw us arrive at the Commands & Colors Ancients tournament which was organised by Barry Ingram. 16 players were there (apparently that is the most they have ever had in the years that they have been running the event). The players were randomly divided up into Roman and Carthaginians and 4 rounds would be played. The most successful Roman General would pair against the most successful Carthaginian General for the bragging rights and trophy (and a cash prize as well I think). I ended up on the Roman side as did Ruarok so that was good as it meant we wouldn't face the possibility of meeting each other and would get to play different people for a change.
My first game was against Gary and we played the Crimissos River scenario
This is a difficult scenario for the Carthaginians to win at the best of times but for some unexplained reason I couldn't roll a miss all game and ended up with a 6-0 score. Sorry Gary, I really don't roll like that normally.
Next game was against Luke. This scenario was the Dertosa one that Ruarok and I had played on the Friday morning. I decided to use the same strategy as told in the historical notes, to charge into the Carthaginian centre and try and break them quickly. As I had the "Double time" card allowing me extra movement this seemed to be a good ploy until Luke revealed on his turn, the "Darken the Sky" card which allowed his missile troops to fire twice. Now it was my turn to be on the wrong end of some mean dice rolling and my Roman line was decimated.
Despite this set back I hung in and at the end only lost 6-5, so I didn't feel too bad.
Next up was Mike. I can't remember which scenario we played this time, but the Carthaginians had elephants again and the game came down to Mike's elephant unit going on a rampage after losing one of it's blocks and taking out my light infantry unit to give Mike a 6-5 win.
Finally, I played Tony. This scenario was the Battle of Bagradas (253BC). More Elephants but this time, I managed to overwhelm them quickly and killed all 3 of the Elephant units which left Tony struggling and I ended up winning 6-3.
So won 2 lost 2, I thought I hadn't done too badly given the 2 loses where 6-5 results. However, a couple of guys on the Roman side won all 4 games a few more won 3 so I actually ended up being placed 5th best Roman general with Ruarok coming 6th, although he did have the distinction of winning his 2 games against the first and second placed Carthaginian generals.
The final round was a double header whereby we were pitted against the corresponding rank of Carthaginian general and refought Cannae. I ended up playing Reg and taking the Romans first, I changed history and won 6-4. We then swapped sides and this time I won as the Carthaginians, again 6-4, being helped in both games by Reg's crap dice rolling!
So after that it was time to pack up and head up the road back to Arbroath.
Overall? We had a great time, loads of stuff to see and do, played lots of new games, great atmosphere and I would definitely be planning to go back next year. Apparently the organisers are expanding the available space by moving the traders into one of the Halls in the NEC itself so it sounds as if 2016 is going to be even bigger and better! Hope to see you there!
The obligatory Pegasus Bridge battle set shot for Mrs K's benefit
It's amazing who you meet at these events!