The UK Games Expo, (UKGE), is the largest hobby games convention in the UK and is arguably the biggest highlight of the UK tabletop gaming calendar.
An enormous mix of board game designers, board game enthusiasts, publishers, artists and vendors descend upon the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham for a full 3 days of epic gaming.
We visited the UKGE for the first time in 2018 on the Friday and Saturday and had an absolute blast. While we had a really amazing time, there are a few ways we wish we could have been better prepared on our first visit.
Never been to UK Games Expo before and not sure what to expect?
Take a look at our handy guide on on how to get the most out of UKGE!
Collect your passes the day before the Expo
Collecting your passes can mean long queuing times, lots of people reported having to wait 30-40 minutes to collect their passes on the morning of the expo. If possible and you are staying somewhere around the area, try and collect your passes on the Thursday beforehand. That way you’ll be able to head straight for the queue to get in on the day.
Be prepared for big crowds
An enormous 25,704 people attended the expo last year - many of whom attended on multiple days, however, this year saw a bigger floor space than in previous years which helped to ease the crowds.
If you tend to struggle with exposure to large crowds, you might find the trade halls a bit hectic on the Saturday which is by far the busiest day.
It is worth bearing in mind that Friday is the quietest day of them all, with Saturday being the busiest and Sunday somewhere in between the two.
Though I wouldn’t suggest planning out the entire weekend it’s a good idea to go with an idea of a few things you would like to try and do. Are there any new games being demoed that you would like to try? Do any of the seminars peak your interest?
On our first visit we didn’t plan anything like this ahead of time and only narrowly managed to book the last demo slot of the weekend for “Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr” which had caught our curiosity. This year we did our research in advance and planned which games we would like to demo so that we could book a slot early on in the weekend.
Don’t forget to check out the seminars list to see if there are any you would like to attend; we completely overlooked these the first year so unfortunately didn’t experience any.
This year however we did our planning beforehand and decided what we really wanted to see, in this case the Shut Up and Sit Down seminar.
As a general rule it is a good idea to turn up at least half an hour before a seminar is due to start to ensure that you get a seat, especially with the big names like Shut Up & Sit Down and The Dice Tower - these will fill up quickly!
Bring and Buy
One of the brilliant parts of UKGE for is was the ‘Bring and Buy’ this is a separate area in the expo where visitors can sell on their old and unloved games. There are masses of second-hand games on offer, meaning lots of opportunities to grab a bargain. Though be wary, occasionally some sellers list games at unrealistic prices, if you aren’t sure a quick search online should give you a rough idea on a reasonable asking price.
Be sure also to visit the Bring and Buy at different times across the weekend, new visitors coming on different days means different games on sale each day!
Don’t forget to take into consideration that the queues for Bring and Buy can get very long (to get into it and also queue up and pay), so ensure that you leave enough time to actually get around and that you don’t have anything else planned too close to the time. This year the Bring & Buy was in a separate hall, so this helped to alleviate some of the crowding. However, still be prepared for a bit of a wait to get in.
There is also a part of the UKGE website which is regularly updated throughout the expo listing all of the games that had been submitted for sale at the bring and buy. This is definitely worth checking regularly to see what has been added, although be aware - it may not still be there by the time you get to it!
Food and Drink
It is handy to know that you can freely bring food and drink into the venues which can help to save a great deal of money over the course of the weekend. Otherwise expect festival style pricing from the food vendors!
Also don't forget Chow Street! Located outside the front of the Hilton Hotel, there was a lovely selection of street food from street vendors including Thai, Mexican, Greek, posh toasties and even Waffles for those with a sweet tooth.
DON’T FORGET TO BUDGET! The biggest thing we forgot to do last year was to budget (this is mainly because we planned our trip at last minute).
Decide how much you want to spend, save up beforehand – do what you need to do. Trust me, you will want to buy everything from everywhere… if you don’t budget and save it can be very tricky to keep control of your spending!
We saved up and budgeted this year and it was much less stressful. We went with an idea of what we wanted to buy and we managed to get the majority of the games on our wish list without breaking the bank and came away with a number of extras too.
Shop around! If there’s a game you want be smart and shop around (unless the game you are after is on the ultra-hot list at the time – grab it quick), lots of stalls sell the same games and the prices can fluctuate hugely. Sadly, some of the vendors take advantage of the games that are hot at the time and overprice their stock. Don’t fall into the trap and take a look around the halls before parting with too much of your hard-earned cash.
Take cash with you! The bring and buy only accepts cash, also occasionally vendors have issues with their card machines - ultimately there will be times that you will need cash.
There are machines around in the NEC however these do charge fees and often attract long queues, so it is advisable to get cash out before you come.
Remember, having fun at Expo can be super tiring! There are areas around the venue in which you can escape from the chaos if you need to; The Hilton around the corner, restaurants and bars in the NEC complex and also a large outside area in front of the NEC building.
We found that just nipping outside for a short while for a bit of fresh air worked wonders to gather more energy to go back in and tackle some more games head on!
Finally, and most importantly – don’t forget to have fun and happy gaming! 😊