September 2018 saw the launch of a new UK board game convention: Tabletop Gaming Live, ran by Tabletop Gaming Magazine. It boasted to be the first UK event where you could play the hottest new game releases post-Gen Con (the biggest tabletop convention in America, where many new games are unveiled).
But is Tabletop Gaming Live a worthy addition to the UK tabletop scene?
This is my experience of Tabletop Gaming Live 2018. Although this isn’t a “Tabletop Gaming Live vs the UK Games Expo” post, I will inevitably draw comparisons between the two as UKGE is the other UK-based tabletop convention that I’ve experienced.
I suspected Tabletop Gaming Live would be smaller and perhaps quieter than a fully-fledged con, but I was still surprised when I walked around the trade hall. There were far fewer exhibitors than you would expect from other major UK or international conventions (UKGE, Gen Con, and Essen). But the quality and reputation of the exhibitors present was still extremely high, and it was the first place in the UK to try out many games like KeyForge (published by Fantasy Flight Games) and Forbidden Sky (published by Gamewright).
There was not a mass of people. It was quiet, and not crowded at all. It picked up around midday, but not to the scale I’ve seen at other events I’ve attended. I actually liked this; it allowed me to take in the convention at a much more relaxed pace, and invest time to explore the halls and try out everything I wanted to. There were no massive queues to demo the new games. It wasn’t so painfully busy that you don’t get to do everything you want. I was able to tick-off everything on my Tabletop Gaming Live hit list – something I’ve never achieved at UKGE!
Forbidden Sky (published by Gamewright)
Forbidden Sky was the headliner – Tabletop Gaming Live was the UK premiere of the Forbidden Sky and the first place UK gamers could play it. Players are on a mysterious floating platform in stormy skies and have to work together, building a real circuit (yes, a real circuit!) to power their escape rocket.
We lost. Twice! There’s lots of elements to balance: laying the platform tiles, building the circuit (and building it correctly!), and avoiding not only getting blown off the platform but also electrocution. It was great to see the continued increase in difficulty and complexity in the Forbidden series.
I can’t wait to play it again when I finally get to pick up my pre-order from my friendly local game store Rules of Play, Cardiff.
Luxor (published by Queen Games)
A Speile De Jahres nominee, with Luxor players race through an ancient temple to the Pharoah’s tomb, collecting treasures along the way. The theme was appealing, but I wasn’t too inspired by the grey, beige and pastel artwork on the board and cards.
What won me over was the unique hand management system. Movement is controlled by the 5 cards in your hand – but you can only choose a card from the very ends (i.e. the first and fifth card). At the end of your turn, you then draw a card and add it the centre of your hand (i.e. in the middle of the 4 cards you had left). This provided a strategic element to the game where players had to manipulate the ‘conveyor belt’ in their hand, to be able to play the cards they wanted.
My take away thoughts from Luxor was that I enjoyed it, but it’s better for younger gamers and families (aged 8+) rather than a group of adults approaching their 30s.
The Lost Expedition (Published by Osprey Games)
It was great to finally have a chance to try The Lost Expedition at with Osprey Games’ stall.
It is BRUTAL. Players control a trio of adventurers, each with a different ‘expertise’, who are trekking through vast jungle to find the Lost City. Players take it in turns to play cards depicting various different jungle-related encounters. Things like encountering animals, meeting native tribes, or getting injuries. The adventurers then have to face (and survive) these encounters to progress through the jungle.
I liked the meaningful decisions that you have to make as you decide the fate of the party. It’s all about deciding as a group how to manage the health and resources of the group to ensure at least one adventurer makes it to the Lost City. I bought my own copy as soon as the demo was over.
KeyForge: Call of the Archons (Published by Fantasy Flight Games)
As the pioneering ‘Unique Deck’ game this two-player competitive card game has garnered a lot of interest. Unlike other competitive card games such as Magic the Gathering, or Andriod Netrunner where players build their own decks using card bought from booster packs in KeyForge players buy complete decks which makes the game accessible straight out of the box. As decks aren’t customisable the challenge in KeyForge is to master how to play your deck and not about building the same deck as everyone else.
Players must race to collect enough Æmber to forge three keys and unlock a Vault of knowledge. Each deck consists of 3 different houses each house has a different strength and its how the players combine these strengths. Each turn players can play action, artefact, creature and upgrade cards from their hand as they wish (no limitations or costs.) the only rule is that they can only activate one of their races each turn and can therefore only play cards of one race. This give the game an interesting strategic angle where players must decide when to activate each race.
I enjoyed Keyforge, but it was hard to fully appreciate it from just one play much like it would be playing any competitive card game (Magic The Gathering or Andriod Netrunner) and it’s fair to say I spent a lot of the demo not knowing what to cards to play. I really want to spend more time with a deck to understand the strengths and weaknesses of it. I’ve been looking for a competitive game to invest my time into and I think KeyForge might be the answer.
People & Designers
As I’ve said before in my UKGE 2018 post, one of the things I love about conventions is being fully immersed in everything board game and being around so many like-minded people who share my passion. Not only other attendees, but also the board game designers and publishers.
It was great fun playing a couple of games with game designer Bez (stuffbybez) at Tabletop Gaming Live. Bez’s welcoming and friendly demeanour really put me at ease when I tying myself in knots playing Yogi in the middle of the trade hall. We also played a couple of games from Bez’s Wibbell++ word gaming system and Bez’s vocabulary is immense and it’s no surprise that he annihilated me during our games. Although, I’m definitely hoping for a rematch next time I bump into Bez at a convention.
If, like me, you stopped by Queen Games to play Luxor, then you may have been taught by Neil from the Board Game Academy. I’ve spoken to Neil a few times over social media and so it was really nice to meet him in person. It was also really fortunate to have him demoing the game because he was a brilliant teacher and he got us treasure hunting like champs in no time at all.
If you haven’t checked out Board & Dice on social media then you should because they are hilarious. It was great to meet Filip, who you couldn’t miss as he was rocking his awesome Pac-Man suit! Board and Dice are always friendly, welcoming and up for a chat so take my advice and stop by and say hi to them if you ever get a chance.
As with other cons, Tabletop Gaming Live had seminars running throughout the day. I took the opportunity to sit down and take in a talk by Paul Grogen for his talk Tips for Teaching Games with Gaming Rules! A lot of the talk was on teaching games at conventions, which I hadn’t realised would be the focus. But I still found it interesting and most tips were transferable teaching/learning games in whatever situation.
The best teaching method can depend on what the games are, but the biggest take-away from the talk was to not get bogged down in the detail and just start playing!
- Start with the setting (which is not the same as the theme!)
- Share the objective. How do we win? How long does the game last? Be clear about how a player will win or get points (even if they don’t know what that means yet!)
- Go into the details as and when it’s needed
We take a pretty similar approach when we’re learning a game at home. Another useful tip was to play through the first round of a game as a walkthrough, then reset the game and play for real.
Venue & Location
Tabletop Gaming Live was the first event that I’ve ever attended at Alexandra Palace (locally known as ‘Ally Pally’). I can see why the organisers chose it for the venue.
Potentially even more impressive was the stunning Alexandra Park that surrounded the venue. I really want to go back to Alexandra Park and Wood Green to explore the local area as it seemed my kind of place.
Unfortunately, the venue is more compact so if Tabletop Gaming Live grows over the next few years then they may need to find a new venue to accommodate the event.
One think I have question is whether Tabletop Gaming Live needs to be in London. My problem with choosing London is that it’s expensive before you’ve even entered the convention. For example, the Travelodge I stay in for the UKGE costs a super reasonable £40 per night. The Travelodge I stayed in for Tabletop Gaming Live was double that at £80 per night. That being said, if it’s going to happen in London I totally see why the event is being held in Alexandra Palace – it’s a fantastic venue – it just means I have to factor in the higher travel/accommodation costs into my budget and spend less when I’m actually in the convention.
So what did I think of Tabletop Gaming Live?
I had a great day at Tabletop Gaming Live. I played all the games I wanted to try and had time to chat with some cool people from the gaming community. This was made possible by the more relaxed, less crowded atmosphere of this convention, which was a breathe air. If I’m honest I’ll be sad to see this change of the years, as there’s no doubt in my mind that Tabletop Gaming Live will grow to be another top convention in the UK, and it will inevitably become busier.
I’m really hoping that Tabletop Gaming Live flourishes from the successes of this year’s event. I’m hoping it becomes another hard hitter on the UK/European convention scene because this could help focus the attention of some developers/publishers to the UK market. This could result in additional benefits for the UK gamers (eg. UK first releases, UK promotions and competitions, more pre-releases or game demos).
Disclosure – I was fortunate enough to be granted a press pass for Tabletop Gaming Live 2018. My views, opinions and discussions about the convention are not affected by this and remain my honest opinions.