All images: Jennifer Redding

Visiting the UK Games Expo 2023: No opportunity to be ‘board’

At the beginning of June, members of our team at The Boar Games had the exciting honour of heading to the UK Games Expo, hosted at NEC Birmingham. Now nearly a month after I visited the final day of the Expo, I only find myself wishing that I could have seen more, played more and spoken to more people – so let’s take a look at the event and reflect on my experience there. There’s definitely no need to roll a persuasion check on getting me to tell you why I enjoyed it so much.

One of many areas where visitors can sit and play games together.

For those that aren’t familiar with the event (admittedly like myself when the opportunity arose), UKGE is a tabletop gaming convention. It held its inaugural event in 2007 and has been on the rise ever since – becoming the largest such event for hobby games in the country, and a must-visit for fans of the pastime. At the close of the Expo’s People’s Choice Awards (where I learned there was such things as ‘European Style’ versus ‘American Style’ boardgames) near the end of the convention’s last day, co-director of the event Tony Hyams announced the attendance figures.

Creators […] united by the same passion for bringing people together

One of the halls at the Expo as viewed from above.

He reported that the unique visitor count for the event had hit 32,201 and attendance 52,171, which was “20% up on the best Expo we’ve ever run”, referring to finally beating figures achieved in 2019, after Covid-19 delivered a hit to the rising trend of visitors in the following years. Rightfully so, Hyams celebrated being well and truly “back”. With the impressive introductory statistics out of the way, let’s dig in to what all the excitement was about.

The day before the Expo officially started, press and those involved in the industry had access to a pre-show event in which game exhibitors presented themselves, their brand and what they were hoping to show off over the next few days to interested visitors and retailers alike. This included familiar brand names such as Catan or Dungeons and Dragons, but also new projects from well-known companies, those not so familiar, and independent creators – all united by the same passion for bringing people together around a table to have fun. This was clear from the very first exhibitor that we spoke to, Make It Games Ltd., about their card game Got It!. Creator Will Hanson, whilst donning a cheerfully colourful lab coat, told us about his primary goal of using the enjoyment of gameplay to make learning maths more approachable and interesting for all.

Table for ‘The Old King’s Crown’ by Eerie Idol Games.

A display of ‘Noli’ by River Horse Ltd.


There was no shortage of things to do and see at the Expo

It would be incredibly easy to simply provide an extensive, excitable list of just some of the exhibitors that I was all too glad we approached – though unfortunately going too overboard with that would not make for the best article, you might have to indulge me a little. Such a list of notable moments includes hearing how the design of the large, squishy foam dice from Asteroid Dice (think a card game and dice-rolling crossed with dodgeball) took a year and a half to get just right. Or that the in-development card game Poppycock! (described as Happy Families meets Bridgerton) has cards that feature rather charming portraits of people known by the creator, Joe MacLeod-Iredale. Or having an instant smile put on my face upon meeting the eponymous Bez of Stuff By Bez as she promptly invited us to do an elbow-bumping, shoe-touching greeting followed by jazz hands upon our approach of a team all decked out in bright red to showcase the numerous simple and fun card games she had designed. It was little details such as all of these that really showed how dedicated and delightful the tabletop community and its creators are.

Cosplayers from the Viking Village interviewed by OnTableTop.

Unfortunately I was only next able to visit the Expo on Sunday, its final day, but in no way did this mean that it was any less lively. During the main event days one can: talk to exhibitors about their games, see live shows and performances, buy items such as dice, figures, posters, or a seemingly infinite catalogue of boardgames, visit a Viking Village, test new games, play so many familiar ones, and more. One of the first things I did upon walking in was try my chances in a lucky dip to win a dice set (spoiler alert: I was not lucky). Several interesting sights roamed the halls, too – fantasy adventure party cosplayers, a talking Dalek, and even the members of the Viking Village at one point, heralded by the banging of several drums as they moved through the area.

The giant game of ‘Risk’.

Taking a good look around the main halls took me several hours, so there was no shortage of things to do and see at the Expo – particularly if you do stop to play a few rounds of any of the numerous games. I took part in a session of the new Dorfromantik board game, where players can work together or even play alone to create a town, with an extensive campaign to complete. It was a charming adaptation of the video game of the same title, well-known for being a relaxing part of the ‘cosy games’ genre (so renowned and beloved, in fact, that the boardgame had sold out entirely at the Expo). Though I did not take part, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a giant game of Risk taking place, where players were pushing figures across a large map like you might see in TV or film. Another that I did try was Dobble Connect, a new version of the existing Dobble picture-matching game. For this iteration, you aim to place four cards in a row before your fellow players do, by way of finding symbols shared by the previously placed card. Offering the chance for fast-paced competitiveness, I had a particular blast with this one as I have fond memories of playing the original during several game-filled evenings in my first year at university.

Overall, it was an absolute delight

One of many display tables for shops around the Expo.

Table for Oink Games, showcasing ‘Make the Difference’ and others.


As the Expo was coming to a close, I quickly walked around to catch any final things I had missed. In this rush I was asked if I wanted to hear about a cyberpunk-themed tactical card game. I was introduced to Netrunner, which the not-for-profit collective Null Signal Games offers the resources and rules for online for free. They do so out of sheer desire to keep people playing after the game was officially discontinued. The explanation of the gameplay I received was rather rushed, with less than 10 minutes until all visitors were to be ushered out of the halls and stalls beginning to be packed away. It’s a somewhat complex game, so a speedy conveyance of the rules, resources and different cards wasn’t the most effective. I couldn’t say with any honesty that I walked away knowing how to play Netrunner, but it was lodged particularly firmly in my memory – if only for the cheerful attitude of the person explaining the game and how the team at Null Signal Games voluntarily aims to keep it alive. Frankly, I wouldn’t have ended my time at the UK Games Expo 2023 any other way.

Overall, it was an absolute delight to be able to see so many new games, with unique takes on existing genres and beautifully designed works, but also to be amongst so many tabletop fans that were just as excited as I was to be there – all with the main aim of  sharing what they enjoy with each other. So, I’ll certainly be looking to attend UKGE next year. Will you?


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