CONVENTION DIARY: UKGE 2018, Birmingham, UK: 1st-3rd June 2018

This is both a generic update, and a brief account of my couple of days at the UKGE this year.  I was only at UKGE for the Friday & Saturday this year, but had many hats to wear this time round…

Hat #1 was my role as designer of Agents in Time — you’ve hopefully read a couple of the Designer Diary installments already through here (and if not, please feel free to go ahead and catch up), and this year we were one of just 20 games to get a shot at the ‘Publisher Speed Dating’ event on the Friday evening (there were 117 entries!)…

Hat #2 was my role as designer of Aliens Ate My Planet! — a new family-friendly deckbuilding card game that is both easy to teach, easy to learn, and in fact, very easy to play, too, of course. This year I had a slot in the Playtest UK zone for this game, and should probably add that the Playtest UK guys are just generally brilliant and helpful, frankly… you can find out more about them here:

Hat #3 was my role as layout/designer of a new boardgaming magazine called The SPIRIT — this is a totally FREE PDF magazine, with an emphasis on reviews and explaining rules and game mechanics, which I believe is particularly useful for anybody interested in boardgame design. You can download your own copy of The SPIRIT from here: The SPIRIT Issue One

And finally, Hat #4 was my somewhat more generic role as a fan of games and gaming in general…

So, how did it go?

Unfortunately, due to a combination of work and half-term hols, I couldn’t actually get down to Birmingham until early Friday evening, which gave me just enough time to pop into the Hilton Hotel for my tickets before making it over to the retail floor. Alas, it was 5.20pm when I got to the NEC, and the halls were closing at 6pm, so I literally circled the outside of both halls just to have a general nosey, before having to make my way to the Piazza rooms for the ‘Publisher Speed Dating’ event.

Some confusion led to a slightly delayed start, but once we were in and set-up, we had only 5 minutes with each of a select number of publishers (approx. 7 or 8 I think), and it was literally a case of pitching the life out of your product every time the bell sounded and a new publisher appeared at your table…

While my passion for Agents in Time is never in doubt, I struggled a lot with the pitching side of things: Agents is a game that needs to be played to be properly appreciated, but of course that doesn’t always wash, regardless of how many other people have played and enjoyed the game, so let’s just say it wasn’t easy!

That said, we were also a tad fortunate, because one of the publishers was Steve Slack of Play Again Productions, and he’d played an earlier incarnation of Agents in Time the previous year and really enjoyed it (see Designer Diary pt 5), so we’ll see what comes of that in due course, hopefully!  Other publishers expressing an interest included Alley Cat Games, Ludicreations, Wizkids, and Wotan Games — once again, time will tell, I guess…

Shortly after the Speed Dating event, there was also a ‘Designer/Publisher Networking’ event, and much as everyone appreciated the complimentary drinks and the talks, I came away with the impression that most of the designers were speaking to other designers, and ditto the publishers… hmmm?

The Networking event didn’t finish ’til gone 10pm, and I did get the opportunity to break out a copy of Aliens Ate My Planet! for a quick play (to general approval, I think). It was tempting to pop over to the Hilton to take advantage of the open gaming space (open ’til 2am!), but I was kinda whacked by then, and had a 20-minute drive to my hotel, so I opted for an early-ish night, and hopefully an early start the following day.

Saturday proved to be anything, but… the hotel was lovely and all that (a Premier Inn btw), but I was reading ’til late-ish Friday night, and managed to completely ignore my 6.40am alarm the following morning, finally climbing out of bed just before 8am.

I did at least manage to enjoy a hearty, carb-fuelled breakfast, before returning to the room and getting ready for the day ahead.

I got to the NEC at about 10am, and was fortunate enough to meet up with Andy from BlackJack Legacy (and his son, Sam) for a quick coffee… We got talking, one thing led to another, and I broke out one of my other game designs, Minty’s Bootiful Football Game

Now Minty’s Bootiful Football Game is something I’m very proud of — it’s a FREE print’n’play game I did for a BGG ( competition and the design specifications meant it had to fit inside a single mint tin: this didn’t stop me squeezing 96 cards in there, as well as 4 dice, a game timer strip (incl. metal washer to track time on it), a reference sheet, an advanced rules sheet, and a full rulesheet, too…

This is Andy’s brilliant photography work, not mine btw… Thanks, Andy!

Anyway, Andy and his son loved the game (and beat me 2-1), and fingers crossed he’ll be covering it in a future YouTube video in due course… so as well as looking forward to that, it’s just a plain awesome thing for him to do whichever way I look at it, to be honest… but around World Cup time would be nice and topical… 😉  Feel free to download your own copy at BGG or here: Minty’s Bootiful Football Game.

On a high for the whole morning at this point, I did manage to get round most of the two halls, although there seemed very little time to stop at any of the stands, given I had a couple of meetings already lined up (mainly for printing quotes and the like).  I managed to squeeze a game of 5-Minute Chase in there (well, three games actually, at around 2-3 mins each), and was all set and ready to learn how to play 1066, Tears To Many Mothers with Tristan Hall (the designer), when he was immediately called away, having forgotten he had to be elsewhere… Ooops!


I had a breather around 3pm-ish, and grabbed something to eat while manning The SPIRIT stand for a wee while before making my way over to the Playtest UK area for my own Aliens Ate My Planet! slot — this is a fun, relatively simple deckbuilder I designed, with the emphasis on easy math and a whimsical theme (Aliens attacking and devouring planets you’re trying to colonise), but even at this early stage it’s already working well and attracting positive comments, and I’m genuinely looking forward to getting it playtested as much as possible over the next few months. The sticking point is the balance of VP values for certain cards, but everything else is clicking really well, including an innovative and easy ‘Trade Up’ system that does some of the streamlining work for you… You can read more about Aliens Ate My Planet! on BGG here: Aliens Ate My Planet! WIP

After a successful playtest session for Aliens, I managed to break out Minty’s Football again for another game, and this time lost 1-0… what is it they say about designers who are terrible at their own game?

The ‘UKGE Raffle’ followed (around 7pm), and at this point I was feeling a tad whacked out, anyway, so just chilled for a few hours (and bumped into some gaming friends from Sheffield) before deciding to set off home… only to be caught chatting to another Bradford-based gamer/designer in the car park for nigh-on 40 minutes about a football-based ‘god-game’ idea he had… let’s hope he does something with that!

Overall, although I am not disappointed, I have to say that I struggled with this year’s UKGE: it just seemed there was too much to look at, and too many things I would’ve like to sit down and learn a lot more about, but never really had the time to do so.  I can finally understand how people visiting Essen Spiele for the first time can come away a little bewildered and a tad disappointed.  A structured plan is what’s required, I suspect, and that’s what I’m hoping to do for next year…

All reports suggest next year’s UKGE will be even bigger, and possibly take up three halls, and as exciting as this may sound, I do hope they try and do something to organise the different retail sectors next year, just to ease navigation and generally make things a bit easier to categorise before attending…


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