Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A total lack of activity?

OK, so it's been over a month since my last post, so both of my readers have probably got bored and wandered off now.

It's hard to remember all the completely inconsequential stuff I've done recently. A fair bit of Ebay activity (because I've set myself the task of selling stuff before buying new any new toys this year; so far it's worked well). Some gaming. Nothing exciting.

"Some gaming" started with Baycon at the start of the month, at the close of which I came home with the bits to playtest a new board game. As it's not my project, it's also not my place to talk about it, butthe game is heading for a commercial release later this year or early next. I really enjoy it, but the gamers up at Spirit Games in Burton (where I go most Wednesday evenings to play a game or two) have started backing away when I put the box on the table. The good news is that the game - and the rulebook - are almost finished now, with just some final polish needed on both. Then it's off to the publishers, for them to arrange artwork and components.

I also managed to wheedle myself a copy of Risk Express - one of the first in the UK. Now I know that it's been released in Germany, but Hasbro UK don't have the best record when it comes to picking up games published by Hasbro in the US or Europe. Hopefully the Risk name will ensure that not only will they import the game, but that it will be on the shelves in Argos, WH Smiths et cetera. It's a good little dice game - much more appealing than something like Yahtzee. Risk Express reminds me a lot of another great dice game published a couple of years ago, called Pickomino. Unfortunately the long distribution chain (with everyone taking a cut) meant that whilst it could be bought in Germany for about a fiver, in the UK it was very hard to track down (specialist games shops only) and sold for £20! If Risk Express sells at the same price point as Yahtzee, you're looking at a very reasonable £8 for a more substantial game.

As well as spending time helping out with the rulebook for the playtest game, the other thing that has occupied my spare time this month has been Heroscape, and particularly planning and preparing for the first UK Games Expo. I'll blog something about Heroscape (with pictures) after the Expo itself; for now, it's enough to know that it is probably my favourite game of all time (and I've played more of them than is than my fair share).

The Games Expo is going to be held in Birmingham in three weeks' time, on the 2nd-3rd of June.

The UK boardgames scene is quite small at the moment - maybe a dozen or so specialist shops, very few quality boardgames in the High Street, and a few events that usually pull in 100-200 people. That compares poorly to Germany, where good quality boardgames can sell tens of thousands of copies, and a big hit will clear half a million in a year (Settlers of Catan is the best-known German boardgame export - they's sold 11 million Catan-based games, and there's now a version available for download on the Xbox 360). Germany's main boardgame event is the annual Spiel fair in Essen - for 4 days, the industry takes over an area the size of a Motor Show at the Essen exhibition centre, and approximately 150,000 visitors go through the doors.

The Expo is an attempt to bring a smimilar sort of event to the UK. What has made Spiel so good in the past is the mixture of publishers, inventors, retailers and members of the public who attend. Events in the UK always appeal to a certain sort of person (usually someone who is carrying a few extra pounds, sports a beard or a ponytail, and thinks that cardboard counters are cool); Spiel is very different, with an emphasis on family games and participation. Of coure, it's easy to see why there's been so much success on the continent when you see how much better the games actually are; a quick flick through the Argos catalogue reveals that here in the UK the mass-market games publishers have little to shout about. But there's been a growing appreciation of what can be achieved by new publishers and distributors, and they've been bullied into coming to Birmingham next month to show off their wares. Hopefully the very low entry price will encourage lots of bored families to take a look at what is on offer.

Of course, if it is to succeed, the Expo needs to follow the German model in getting people to actually sit down and play games (rather than following the wargames show tradition, of having people wander around, looking at all the pretty displays). It is only by engaging with the public, by showing them what they have been missing when they first see something like Settlers Of Catan, that things can move on from year after year of Monopoly re-issues, Connect 4 and Risk.

To that end, I volunteered a while back to host a game of Heroscape. Now it's something of an exception - a game designed for the mass market, that is readily available in the UK (OK, it's absent from the current Argos catalogue, but it was in the 2005 and 2006 Autumn/Winter books), which is actually a very good game. How do I define very good? Well, it needs to have lots of meaningful decisions, some (but not too much) luck, lots of interaction between the players, and plenty of variety (in any given game of Monopoly there are probably 5 important decisions made; in a game of Heroscape, you probably make 5 every turn).

In terms of having a participation game for the public, it is important that the game looks good, that it be relatively simple to explain, it should look somewhat familiar, and it must look fun. Heroscape ticks all the boxes - and it's visual appeal is particularly high. We tried it out on the public a couple of times last year, have largely ironed out the kinks in the way in which we explain the game and get people playing, and the reaction has been universally positive (it helps that although the game is simple enough for children, there's enough depth for adults to sink their teeth into).

So I've been planning and thinking about how to show Heroscape to people at the Expo - we had a small trial run at the Birmingham Central Library the week before last I think what we've got planned should be good fun, as well as having a certain "wow" factor. It's a shame that its left to individuals to publicise good games when they come along, though - Hasbro in the USA has marketed Heroscape much more aggressively, as a result of which it is widely available - and pretty popular.

If you're in Birmingham on the 2nd or the 3rd, do make sure that you pop by and say hi. I'll be the looney next to a table full of robots, vikings, paratroopers and samurai, trying to stop the dragons and elves from taking over the world.

I'll make sure that I do a proper blog post - with pictures - when we're done.


Jim said...

Hi there,

I think that the problem is with most UK games expo's that I've been to (including Beer & Pretzels which I attended recently) is that most boardgamers/wargamers aren't very sociable. You go up to a table where a game is going on, and they're very much eyes down, getting on with the game, talking to people they already now. It's very hard to 'break into' that kind of close knit social group with a lame 'can I play please?'. I find it less intimidating to go up to complete strangers in clubs and start conversations ;->

RDewsbery said...

You're not wrong, Jim. I'm hoping that the Expo will be more open to new folk than the existing UK conventions, which have an emphasis on playing games that you already know with folk who you've already met.

Essen manages to be welcoming to all sorts, and it's pretty normal to sit down with complete strangers to learn or play a new game. Hopefully enough of the demonstrators at the Expo will realise how important it is to be welcoming; new faces shouldn't have to "break in" - they should be drgged in, kicking and screaming if necessary :D