This was my third Expo and and each one has been a markedly different experience. Not because the show itself has changed a great deal, but because it is broad enough to encompass a range of activities and one persons Expo can be different from another's depending on their interests.
I spent Expo 2013 bouncing from demo game to demo game, squeezing in giant-sized games of Castle Panic and Ticket to Ride along the way. At my second Expo I squeezed in visits to the dealer room around seminars and an RPG session, while this year I took part in my first wargaming tournament.
I decided to have a go at the Bushido tournament because I had never done anything like it before, because I already had plenty of painted models and because they were offering a 20% discount to anyone who took part. In the end I did spectacularly badly, though my opponents were unfailingly courteous and sportsmanlike, at least in part because I chose my warband based on the models I like best and had painted most effectively. The experience cemented my belief that I am not a very competitive player, plus eight hours of one game in a day is two to four hours more than I want. But it was a new experience and now I can now say I don't much like tournaments based on experience.
Tournament in Action
I have seen the Expo described as basically a board-gaming convention, but in reality it seems to be several different conventions sharing a space. As well as the wargames tournaments, there are board game and card game tournaments, RPG sessions, seminars and a few quirky oddities like LARPing and cosplay. The dealer rooms cover everything from board games to goth fashion. The whole thing demonstrates the extent to which geek interests tend to overlap and it is quite possible to have an enjoyable experience while ignoring more than half the convention.
It is unusual for me in that is the only event I regularly attend for which I stay more than a day and which takes place at a hotel.This gives the experience something of a community feel as groups of gamers hang around the bar into the evenings or compare notes over breakfast.
The UK Games Expo Food Festival - I'm betting you won't see many pictures of this
Next year though the character of the event is genuinely set to change as large parts of the event move out of the hotel and colonise parts of the neighbouring National Exhibition Centre. This is largely for reasons of space, the hotel having become increasingly jammed. This lead to rooming problems for several events and I found myself involved in a kind of tournament musical chairs as the Bushido tournament was bounced from one room to another a total of five times. It could have been worse, in 2014 an air conditioning failure resulted in a far warmer atmosphere than was comfortable.
It will be interesting to see what effect dividing the event has. Will there be a division between the tournament players and the casual gamers as one set are left in the hotel and the others troupe across to an exhibition hall? Will the sense of community be lost if there is a division between the event and the accommodation? And will the breakfast queue be even longer as everyone gets up even earlier because they have to walk further?
If nothing else, the UK Games Expo has provided a different experience each time I have attended and that, compared to the predictability of so many gaming shows, is very welcome.