This past Saturday was my first visit to the UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC. I’m not a massive board game player, in fact I own none. However several of my friends are and at my work place quite a few are into it as well. I joined my mates on a casual visit on the Saturday, mainly to hang out with them as I hadn’t seen them for a while and also to play some new games which none of us had played before. My friends had already been on the Friday, and already spent a fortune, so today was purely to play some games.
We’d got Star Trek Ascendancy booked up for 1pm, so the morning was firstly an attempt to try and find Mansions of Madness for a bargain price. This turned out to be an epic fail, with the best price being about £65, with the amount of money that had already been spent and new games to play, it was decided it could be held off as online prices were pretty much the same. However wait just one second, a table was free with the second edition of the very game on. So, no time was wasted in power walking over, sitting our arses down and setting up. An Exhibitor gave us a quick run through and left us with the rule book, and the app, contained in a very heavy locked down pole. It was an iPad after all.
What I do like about these companion app board games, is that they are great for casual board game players like myself. It makes the game easy to follow, and easy to get into. The app basically will guide you through each turn of the game, while going into a whole bunch of detail that doesn’t matter, unless someone wants to narrate in an appropriate voice for the scenario. You can easily learn to filter out the noise and pick out the key words for what’s required to do next.
Mansions of Madness second edition is a co-op scenario based horror mystery for between 2 and 5 players. You play as a group of investigators looking into the odd goings on inside a mansion. You have your turns the mythos has it’s turn, which is all done by the app. As standard, you get multiple actions on your turn, to move, investigate, open doors, as well as attack and evade once monsters appear on the board. Another good feature of the app is puzzles to get past certain rooms, which can take multiple attempts to complete but add an extra element to the game. The game took us about 2 hours to complete, and we lost to the mythos, my own investigator going insane.
After a spot on lunch outside by the NEC lakes we returned to the hall for our pre-booked go at Star Trek Ascendancy. As big trekkies we were all looking forward to this. Made for 3 players, players play as the Federation, Klingons and Romulans against each other. You have to explore and grow your empires, fleets, bases and culture, with the primary goal to become the most advanced civilisation. Which you can quite easily do, without even coming into contact with your neighbours. Should you come into contact with one of the other players, you can agree to a trade agreement, or you can go to war with each other in an attempt to slow down their attempts to become the most civilised race.
Unlike Mansions of Madness there is no companion app to this game, and it took a very long explanation of the game by the exhibitor to explain all the key aspects of the game. It took probably over an hour for me to truly understand how the game was playing out, for a long while I was simply confused and didn’t really understand it. Another down side to the complexity of the game is the amount of space it requires. As you can see from the picture above we had a fairly large table, and we easily outgrew it. Again the game took approx 2 hours for us to complete, and despite having the least amount of space on the board the Federation won, purely to some good fortune with their planet discoveries which allowed their culture tokens to build up rapidly, and was somewhat spotted far too late by myself, the Klingons and my colleague the Romulans, who had engaged with the Federation, but had perhaps made the mistake of not allowing me to traverse their space despite having a trade agreement in place between us.
Overall the first play of the game like anything was a big learning curve, and we’ll probably enjoy playing it moving forward, as my friends had already purchased it the day before.
We spent a bit more of the afternoon looking around stalls before heading home.
If you want more coverage of the Games Expo, take a look at the offline gamer, which is a site run by a work colleague.
Also big props to UK Games Expo who had worked a deal with the NEC for 2 days car parking for the price of one. As a local, who tries to avoid NEC parking costs at all times where possible, this was a great deal, as the NEC does love an extortionate car parking fee.