EVENT | UK Games Expo 2018 – the 10 games that left a lasting impression

It’s been a while now since this year’s UK Games Expo (UKGE – the UKs biggest convention for all things gaming). But I haven’t forgotten about all the games that I was fortunate to see and – most of the time – play! You’re surrounded by so many games, constantly moving from one to the next, and it’s sometimes hard to take stock of the qualities of each one. Having now had time to reflect, I want to share the games that really left a lasting impression on me.

Codinca (Published by Backspindle Games)

They say good things come in small packages… and Codinca certainly proves this. I originally went to see Backspindle Games at the UKGE to check out Mournequest (which was on Kickstarter at the time), but the Mournequest table was so busy I couldn’t get a look in. But I’m glad I stopped by, as instead I got to play a game of Codinca, which was one of the ‘biggest’ surprises of the UKGE.

Players are explorers racing to unlock the Codinca Temple and get to the treasures inside. There are four sets of coloured tiles (one set for each player), with symbols representing the four elements: earth, water, fire and air.  Players are secretly dealt 4 cards with specific ‘key’ patterns, and take turns swapping or flipping tiles to match these patterns and unlock the temple. The first person to complete all four keys is the winner.

This abstract game is all about out-thinking your opponents. You need to think about the best sequence of turns to match your key patterns as quickly as possible. This is made all the more challenging when other players mess up your plans when moving tiles for their own patterns. Or even just to screw with you!

I’m not normally a massive fan of abstract games but Codinca’s light, yet very competitive nature definitely caught my attention. I regularly head to local coffee shops with my wife to get a caffeine fix and play one of our small box games… Condinca’s compactness and competitive game play is definitely making it a contender for my next small box purchase.

Nine Worlds (Published by Medusa Games)

In my previous post, Going to the UK Games Expo? 8 Lessons I Learnt From Last Year, I spoke about not judging a game solely on its demo. Nine Worlds is lucky that I have this kind of mindset.

Nine Worlds is an area control game based on the nine homeworlds ruled by the gods and goddesses of Norse mythology. Each player starts in a different homeworld, and the aim of the game is to grow your armies (represented by coloured glass stones) and take control of the homeworlds to gain points. Each world has a unique ability that you can use if you’re in control: using these powers had a genuine impact on the game and became a catalyst for conflict across the board.

It was a demo of two halves. The first couple of rounds felt repetitive, as players focussed on moving armies from their reserve, to their player card, to one of the worlds on the board. Due to the number of actions these movements cost, the first few turns were relatively uneventful. However, once enough stones were on the board, the game kicked off as each player started battles to try and take control of other worlds.

I was initially intrigued by Nine Worlds; I’m a fan of the Norse/Viking mythology, the game looks visually appealing, and I’ve wanted to try area control games with my friends for a while (as this seems to be a style we haven’t really truly explored yet). Unfortunately, I was left wanting. The demonstrator made a few mistakes when explaining the rules at the start, leaving us a bit confused and the game experience sadly ruined. Also, the demo was a stripped down version using basic rules, which included removing the variable player powers of each character (each player card had a different Norse god/goddess with powers related to their mythology). I think by removing these variable player powers they removed an interesting element of asymmetry that would have helped players to strategise in a more individual way. I think this definitely contributed to my feeling that the demo was lacking.

This being said, the demo wasn’t a complete bust… objectively, I could see that Nine World’s has potential to be a good game and I hope can try it again in the future – but this time with the full rules!

Century: Eastern Wonders (Published by Plan B Games)

I’ve known that Century: Spice Road is part of a planned trilogy of games for while. However, I mistakenly assumed that each game was going to share the same mechanics as the first installment (essentially being a reprint with different themes) with the added benefit of expanding the game. With this in mind, I wasn’t initially excited when I heard about its release. When I found out that Century: Eastern Wonders would have its own unique style of game play, this changed. I knew I would have to check it out at the UKGE.

Like its predecessor, Eastern Wonders is about collecting and trading spices. But instead of using cards to trade spices across a desert, you’re travelling by boat to across island tiles to trade spices at their markets. It’s a standalone game, but Eastern Wonders can be combined with Century Spice to create a new game (from Sand to Sea).

When I played Eastern Wonders at UKGE, it was easy to pick up the gameplay as the rules are very similar to Spice Road. However, I thought the moving and trading mechanic was much more challenging. The markets are spread out across the board and you might have to spend time moving to get to the market you need. In addition, the game also introduces a really interesting ‘penalty system’: If you land on a tile occupied by another player, or try to trade on an island where another player traded first, it will cost you. I liked this aspect because it introduced a new level of player interaction that Spice Road lacked.

Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games)

Playing Terraforming Mars was definitely a priority for me at this year’s UKGE and thankfully I managed to get to the demo table on the last day. I’m ashamed to say that until that point I hadn’t had the opportunity to play this giant of modern board gaming, and I wanted to see why it’s such a favourite amongst the community. Safe to say, I think it deserves its reputation.

Each player takes the role of a large corporation trying to terraform Mars. This is achieved through investing in different technologies that enable you to increase the oxygen level and temperature, and cultivate the landscape of the planet. There’s so many ways to terraform the planet that each player can have a relatively unique strategy.

I’m a big science fiction fan, so the games aesthetic and theme stood out to me immediately. But my favourite aspect of the game was the breadth of real, impactful choices and strategies that the game presents you with. Everyone in our group picked different methods; from generating heat, to increasing oxygen for wildlife, to building cities, we all seemed to have a different focus. I also liked that although the game is competitive, there was a sense of achieving something together as you slowly change the planet.

I can’t wait to play this one again with my gaming group, as we all had a great time during the demo.

Mystic ScROLLS (Published by Drawlab Games)

Unfortunately Mystic ScROLLs was my least favourite demo. Which is a shame, because I was excited to try another real-time dice game. Fuse (by Renegade Games) is my favourite cooperative game – the real time dice rolling makes the game incredibly intense! And unlike Fuse, Mystic ScROLLS is a competitive game, which I was excited to try.

In Mystic ScROLLS, each player is a different wizard, with their own unique spell cards. When the round starts, players roll dice and add matching symbols to their spell cards as quickly as possible. When the last die is drawn from the pool the round is over and any completed spells are cast, which can either heal your or deal damage to another wizard. If you run out of health – you’re out of the game! The last player standing wins.

One thing that I’ve noticed with real-time games is that they can feel like players are playing their own simultaneous games rather than playing a game together. This wasn’t the case with Mystic ScROLLS. There was a good level of player interaction, brought into the game mainly by the way you deal damage to other players (at least with the player on the left, who is your target). However, I felt the variable player powers let the game down. One particular character used spells that were almost always dependant on an additional die roll to determine the amount of healing or damage they could do. The other players weren’t as reliant on this mechanic, which made the game feel unbalanced.

Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails (Developed by The Noble Artist)

The fantastic illustrations of Jamie Noble Frier caught my attention, but it was the games narrative and flavour text that has put this right at the top of my Kickstarter wish list.

Like many epic fantasy themed games, in Hero Master you take on the role of a hero. But this time, you’re a hero who isn’t very good at being a hero. In fact you’re so bad that most of the other heroes don’t want you to quest with them. Instead, you round up a band of other failed heroes, to take with you on quests and to assist you with defeating any monsters that cross your path. The aim of the game is to collect the most gold which is gained by completing quests.

Before you can embark on your quest though you must first decide who will be the party leader. Being party leader means that you will have the first opportunity to attack the monster in this quest. The ‘bungle phase’ of a round is where players jostle for party leadership playing ‘bungle cards’ that will move the first player token around the table and  also have an impact on the later ‘fight phase’ of the round. Fights in Hero Master are resolved using a D20 dice, but bungle cards may impact the value required for a critical fail (typically, starting at a role of 20) something you will want to avoid when fighting the monsters.

Due to the bungle and fight phases in Hero Master, the game has a intricate and interesting depth of conflict that you need to navigate through using a single hand of cards. This really presents you with some very interesting decisions.

Hero Master doesn’t take itself too seriously – it’s meant to be funny! And it successfully delivers this humour whilst offering a great gaming experience that isn’t too simple and requires plenty of strategy.

Last One In (Developed by City Gate Games)

Last One In was one of my favourite games at UKGE and City Gate Games were running their Kickstarter at the time, which I instantly backed after playing the demo. I explain more about the game and what I liked about it in my post 5 reasons why I backed Last One In.

Unfortunately, the Last One In Kickstarter campaign wasn’t successful. But I’m waiting eagerly for an announcement of how they intend to release the game. I really want to get my hands on it!

Heroes of Tenefyr (Developed by Broken Mill Games)

I attend the UKGE press preview this year and I spoke with Broken Mill Games about Heroes of Tenefyr. Heroes of Tenefyr is a cooperative deck building game where players take on the role of a hero who is trying to protect the village of Tenefyr, from the evil creatures from the dungeons nearby.

It’s a deck building game with a twist. Unlike many deck building games (Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle) in Heroes of Tenefyr players can’t improve their deck by purchasing cards from a shared market, as there isn’t a market, or any form of currency in the game. Instead players must beat the dungeon dwelling monsters to gain new cards for their deck. The enemy cards are multi-function cards which represent both a monster and a valuable resource for the player deck.

I was really impressed and was very keen to get a demo. Alas, every time I went to the Broken Mill stall they were always busy. I tried. I really did!

I loved the theme, the artwork of Heroes of Tenefyr and I found the description of the game play intriguing. I wish I had been able to demo it but it looks like I’ll just be instantly backing  the Kickstarter campaign in the coming months.

Escape Tales: The Awakening (Published by Board & Dice)

I’m not a massive fan of the escape room genre; I’ve played Unlock! before and just wasn’t that impressed. So I wasn’t planning to sit down to Escape Tales: The Awakening,  but the opportunity arose when I was waiting to play 5 minute chase at the Board & Dice stall. True to form, Board & Dice have once again pushed the boundaries of an existing game format into a new and exciting dimension that offers gamers a fresh experience.

When I played Unlock! I felt that I was just being given a series of puzzles with little narrative. It was like a ‘real world’ escape room when you’re given a brief synopsis to set the scene and then of you go… But in the real world you’re physically immersed in the experience, on the tabletop you’re not!

In contrast, Escape Tales is a heavily narrative-driven escape room, as you search the locations and pick up items you’re directed to paragraphs to read in the companion book. As the narrative is so important to the game I don’t want to give too much away. However, I will introduce the premise. Your daughter has all the doctors puzzled because despite being perfectly healthy, she has been in a coma for months. In your desperate attempts to find answers you meet Mark, a father who experienced something very similar with his son. Mark explains that by carrying out a ritual called ‘the awakening’ he was able to pass into another dimension and bring his son back….

Every decision you make is meaningful and directly impacts the story, keeping you immersed in the experience each step of the way. Unlike other escape room games Escape Tales has no time limit and offers a non-linear story which provides multiple endings. How your tale ends is completely dependent on the choices you make whilst playing the game. It’s a ‘choose your own adventure’ escape room that you play multiple times to explore the alternative endings! I’m really looking forward to exploring this game when it is released later this year.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

I wasn’t able to get a demo of Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. In fairness this didn’t actually surprise me, as I knew that it would be one of the most popular games at UKGE.

But as fate would have it, I was walking past the Portal games stall just when Ignacy Trzewiczek started to pitch the game to a small gathering. Detective was designed to provide a unique experience for gamers with a high level of digital integration, including a companion website. Players take on the role of detectives and try to solve a series of cases. One thing that Ignacy emphasised was that the game is dark – definitely not suitable for children.

I really like that Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game blurs the lines between reality and fiction. During the game you have to interact with real-world resources (Google maps and real websites) to interpret and find clues to help solve the cases your working on. It’s a brilliant innovative concept that I’m really excited about. I didn’t join in the pre-order for this one, solely because my gaming group already have a number of campaign style games on the go with both Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle and Pandemic Legacy Season 1 to complete.

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For the most part, I’m looking forward to playing these games again over the next year. Did you play any of these games? What did you think of them? Leave a comment and let me know – I’m always interested to hear other people experiences!

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Disclosure – I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted a press pass for the UK Games Expo 2018. My views, opinions and discussions about the UK Games Expo 2017, or the UK Games Expo 2018 are my honest opinions, and not effected by this.

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