Last year was my first time at UKGE, and frankly it was a bit overwhelming! This is my first year as a trader (argh!) so I’m even more stressed. I hope my survival guide helps reduce stress for some of you!

Be Prepared! (Can you tell I was in the Scouts….?) It’s always stood me in good stead. As with all large events, a bit of planning and preparation makes a massive difference to my enjoyment at a show. A lot of these tips are good for attending any convention or large events, so read on intrepid
explorer!

WHAT/WHERE/WHEN/WHO/HOW?

What?

UK Games Expo is the largest tabletop gaming convention in the UK. It brings together all types of tabletop gaming including:
● Card Games
● Board Games
● Role-playing Games
● Miniature Games
● Family Games

Designed to appeal to the general public and families alongside dedicated hobbyists, there is a range of elements to participate in; trade stands to wander around, numerous games to try out at demo stands, seminars to enjoy or multiple tournaments to join.

Basic Stats:
● Now in its 13th Year.
● 39,106 visitors over three days (21,698 unique visitors)
● 350+ Exhibitors
● Hundreds of seats in tournaments
● Male/ female mix around 65/35
● High numbers of families and children
● Strong core of hobby games enthusiasts
● Good opportunity to demo and buy products
● Opportunities to playtest game designs
● Publisher-Designer activities

Basically, if you like tabletop gaming in any form, this is THE event of the year in the UK. Like Toys R Us (Poor Geoffrey…) there’s millions of wonders, all under one roof!

Where?

The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) Birmingham, UK and the NEC Hilton Metropole. About 8 miles east of Birmingham city centre it’s easy to get to, but there can be tailbacks and queues, especially if there’s been an accident on the motorway, which unfortunately can happen. Parking is a bit of a nightmare. Though there are 16,500 parking spaces (so you should find one) and UKGE normally has a deal on with the NEC to reduce costs if you visit for more than one day, your SatNav will be bamboozled (mine tried to leap from the car last year it was so confused!) and you’ll possibly have to get a shuttle bus to and from your car. The NEC is also right next to Birmingham International Station, so trains are a super easy option. And yay reduced carbon footprint!

When?

Friday 31st May to Sunday 2nd June 2019. It’s my birthday on 2nd so feel free to stop by with cake, champers and prezzies…. 😛

Who runs UK Games Expo?

Whilst UKGE may now be massive, it started as a small event in 2007 by fanatical game players Richard Denning and Pat Campbell. Tony Hyams joined Richard as director, and there are a whole host of other people who help organise the event. Hundreds of man hours are spent organising UKGE each year, including time given by unpaid volunteers, without whom it wouldn’t be possible to run. Thanks guys!

Who can come?

UK Games Expo is open to the public, and everyone is welcome. You can book in advance or just turn up and pay on the day.

How?

The website (www.ukgamesexpo.co.uk) has extensive information on all aspects of UK Games Expo, including opening hours, prices, schedules, maps, hotels info, trader info etc. so check there for full details.

How much does UK Games Expo cost?

SINGLE DAY TICKET: Adults £13, Young Adult (11 to 15 years) £8. Family £35.
TWO DAY TICKET: Adults £23, Young Adult (11 to 15 years) £15. Family £60.

THREE DAY TICKET Adults £30, Young Adult (11 to 15 years) £20. Family £80.
FAMILY TICKET admits 2 adults and 2 young adults.
Child Tickets
Children aged 10 and under are admitted free to UK Games Expo. These tickets will be issued on your arrival at the convention. Simply ask at the ticket desk for the tickets when you arrive.

Queues to collect tickets get insanely long at peak times, so if you can collect the evening before, it’s definitely worthwhile doing. Tickets for entertainment events, tournaments, seminars etc are separate and available online to collect from the NEC ticket booths, or in person from the events desk at the Hilton

Show Hours
Friday and Saturday:
● The NEC Hall 1+2 Trade Halls (300+ exhibitors, hundreds of tables of games to play, the Family Zone, Cosplay Groups, shop and drop.)
● General public opening 9.30 to 6pm.
● Gaming rooms at the Hilton Hotel open 10.00 till midnight for Roleplaying sessions
● Open Gaming available at the NEC Hall 2 from 8am until midnight and later at HIlton
● Tournament Hall (Hall 2) open from 8am till midnight
● Cook Street and Viking Village Open from 10.30 till mid evening Sunday:
● The NEC Hall 1+2 Trade Halls (300+ exhibitors, hundreds of tables of games to play, the Family Zone, Cosplay Groups, shop and drop.)
● General public opening 9.30 to 4pm.
● Gaming rooms at the Hilton Hotel open 10.00 till 7pm for Roleplaying sessions
● Open Gaming available at the NEC Hall 2 and Hilton Hotel from 8am until 6pm
● Tournament Hall (Hall 2) open from 8am till 7pm
● Viking Village Open from 10.30 till late afternoon

LAYOUT

There’s an app! Last year it was awful, (sorry guys) with glitches, a search that didn’t work and it crashed a couple of times. This year, after a (very!) quick look, it seems much better. The search works and the zoomable map actually does that. Yay! Given the expected volume of use though, I would honestly still make your own schedule, especially if there’s specific events/tournaments you want to attend, or traders you want to visit. (Hint hint, 2-610 near the Hall 2 entrance!) To help with this, there’s not only a show guide, but a beginners guide too! Awesome! They’re both free, and they have loads of useful info, including maps, schedules and trader info. You will most likely REALLY need the show guide (the map especially), for the layout of the hall is incredibly confusing. Like American cities, there’s a grid system of letters and numbers, which sounds easy to navigate, but unfortunately it isn't. Whilst a lot of effort has obviously been made to create a great layout, the stands don’t always go in in numerical order, and Letters and numbers can appear randomly in different rows or columns. If a stand number starts with a 1, it’s in hall one, if it starts with a 2, it’s in hall two. After that, good luck and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Though the layout may still need a bit of tweaking, the bigger floorspace has helped ease crowds massively. Friday is obviously the quietest day, with Saturday being the busiest. Sunday is somewhere in between. Generally, the queues and waits aren’t too bad, but you will be at the mercy of the Queue Gods around midday Saturday. Be patient, keep calm and entertain yourself while you wait – make a new friend in the queue or read your show programme! There are only so many game sets, or staff to help, so be prepared to wait. Don’t be a jerk. If you feel overwhelmed by the crowds and need a bit of a break, but don’t fancy removing yourself completely to your hotel room (though this is sometimes a very good idea – room service and naptime – what more could you want?!?), there are large outdoor spaces. And looking over the lake can be very relaxing. Indoors, the Hilton has the biggest spaces, and the various cafes and restaurants around the NEC, and the bar at the Hilton, all offer some respite from the Trade Halls.

FOOD AND DRINK

Save yourself a fortune – take in your own food and drink! You can bring your own food and drink in and out of UKGE. Yay! I would also recommend you do this for your time in NEC as the food there is not only expensive (as is the food at the Hilton Hotel) but generally a bit rubbish. There is a subway and a Weatherspoons if you want something relatively cheap and cheerful(ish…) However, I would recommend the food court outside the Hilton though. They charge festival prices (£7-12 depending how luxurious your tastes are!) however I always found whatever I picked to be utterly delicious. Om nom nom! Oh, and you can get booze pretty much everywhere. Wahoo! If you want a bit of a break (or just somewhere to sit down while you eat!) the nearby Gentings Resort World complex (just across the pond from the Hilton – about 10 mins, and 5ish from the NEC) has chains like Nando’s, TGI Fridays and GBK and a couple of bars. My personal favourite is Sky By The Water, a relaxed, rooftop bar and restaurant with stunning views. Slightly posher than T-shirt and jeans, but well worth the effort. They have gin and cocktails. Need I say more?!?

On a self-care note, make sure you take plenty of water. Yes, you will have to brave the loos more often (see next point) but the halls get incredibly hot, and gaming whilst dehydrated is in no way fun. It’s also probably worth taking some healthy snacks like fruit with you. A shocking suggestion I know!
But whilst there is food with different levels of deliciousness, a lot of it is somewhere on the beige/brown spectrum. Believe me, your body will thank you for the odd apple over the weekend!

TOILETS

There are plenty of toilets in the NEC halls and in the main corridors. They can get quite busy though, with queues outside both the Gents and the Ladies. Due to this frequency of use, they can get quite grim. Think club toilets at 2am – sticky floors, run out of loo roll and weird smells. Take tissues and hand sanitiser with you!

In comparison, the toilets are regularly cleaned at the Hilton. Possibly TOO regularly – they were shut every hour for cleaning. Hygiene standards great but being late for a gaming slot or show can be frustrating…

Speaking of hygiene standards (yes, I’m going there, sorry!) frankly, if you can afford a ticket to UKGE, you can afford soap and antiperspirant. There are also ‘refresher stations’ with deodorant and wipes available at the entrance, and sometimes in the toilets as well. Yes, shows are hot and busy, but don’t be that person…..

SHOPPING

Bring money. I cannot stress this enough. BRING MONEY! The Natwest in the NEC closed, so although cash-points have been installed, they charge you. And still there is always a huge queue. Most stands take cards, but not all do and sometimes technology has problems. Normally at the most inconvenient time! For example, at a previous UKGE, Visa went down for an entire day. Booooo!
I repeat. BRING PLENTY OF MONEY.

Other things to bring – bags! It’s a fact of any convention that at some point you’ll be trekking around with large, unwieldy boxes. A lot of traders will put your purchases in bags, but sometimes it’s not feasible, or they’ve run out, or you’ve bought something from the Bring & Buy. A myriad of reasons
to take a bag with you!

Make sure you check out the Bring & Buy stall (with your bags at the ready!), but do so as early as possible. Not only do the best bargains go early but you will find yourself queuing up for half a day if you get there too late.

Keep your eyes peeled for Indie businesses! Giants such as Fantasy Flight will undoubtedly draw lots of attention, but many games from smaller companies are fantastic, innovative and oodles of fun. You never know what gems you might find! There are also a lot of traders with gaming and geeky accessories too so make sure you take the time to poke around a little to ensure you don’t miss out.

Why not get a bit of geek chic to take with you every day?!

EXTRAS

Cloakrooms

The NEC cloakrooms are £1 per item and are only open until 6pm, so make sure you have collected anything by then or it will be locked up overnight. There is a Shop and Drop service at the show, but this was full before lunchtime on Friday last year. If you are staying at the Hilton, you may be able to use their concierge bag drop, but it’s dependent upon how busy they are.

Phone Charging

Take a battery pack! If you don’t plan on going back to your room during the day – take two! So helpful. I take at least one to every event. The NEC has paid phone-charging units but they are expensive and there’s often a queue.  The Hilton has a few sockets dotted about, but they don’t like you using them.

COSPLAY

Check out the Viking village outside! It’s fantastic and the Vikings are super friendly. Well worth a visit. There is a costume ‘masquerade’ on the small main stage, and there aren’t many people in costume tbh. Some of those who are seem to have been hired by UKGE to create a bit of a buzz near the entrance, but there is a stall with some props and people to chat to. If you want to go in cosplay, it’s a great way to break the ice with people, and show off your other geeky passions. Just make sure you follow general cosplay rules – nothing inappropriate for families, no real weapons, and think of the space you take up. Also, remember it gets super hot in the halls! Collectormania is taking place at the NEC 1st-2nd June, so expect cosplayers aplenty going between hotels/restaurants and the other halls on Sat/Sun.

HELP

There are loads of volunteers around and Game Ambassadors will be in blue shirts – if you are new, on your own or just lost ask them and they will help. They’ve been trained to help and are delightful. There’s also a large help desk in both Trade Halls, a desk and whole info room in the Hilton. Conventions can be hard to get through, especially one as large as UKGE, and even more so if, like me, you don’t have the option of a cheeky Monday off after to recover! It’s easy to be overwhelmed or feel run-down during or after a full-on gaming weekend, so look after yourself, and each other, and have a great time!