Mrs Meeple’s UKGE Diary! Part Two

We’ve got a few posts on the topic of UKGE:

Mr Meeple said I came across as ‘enthusiastic and a little bewildered’ in my previous post. Really then it’s obvious I wrote the post with an authentic voice that demonstrates how I sometimes come across in real life.

I awoke around 5:30am on Saturday. That was thanks to the incessant traffic hum from the M6 sliproad that cheerfully passed within what felt like sixteen inches of our room window. Mr Meeple somehow remained asleep for another hour even though this is a man that claims to be a chronic insomniac. He also completely slept through all the drunken shouting and door slamming at 4:20 on the Sunday morning. He also managed to snore through what sounded like a 20 ton robot jumping on our ceiling at around the same time. A chronic insomniac indeed. I harboured some degree of resentment for him as a result.

Have a nice day sign

A tall order given the 4am re-enactment of the Battle for Britain.

By Friday afternoon I had been suggesting to Mr Meeple that I might take the day off from the convention on the Saturday and do something else. That would probably involve a gym workout or a visit to an indoor climbing centre. At first he seemed okay with this idea but then he persuaded me that we would spend the Saturday actually playing games. Since he couldn’t necessarily do that alone I agreed to join him at the convention centre on the proviso that I could leave if I got bored or tired. I also didn’t have a working mobile phone (which has been preying on my mind for some time) so splitting up would be problematic in terms of finding each other again. My resentment for his restful sleep wasn’t intense enough, at that point, to want rid of him forever.

As you’ll already have seen from Mr Meeple’s rant, I really should have gone with my instincts.

I was already tired from the lack of sleep, and I didn’t really have the energy for climbing or exercise. How I thought that meant I would have the energy for the convention, I’m not sure.

To be fair, Saturday morning started off well. We finally managed to get a game of Wreck and Ruin, which was an immensely fun and violent game. Thanks partly to Mark attacking Mr Meeple first, and some very lucky dice rolls early on for me, I rather dominated the game and did a lot of damage to their factions. Mark’s comment in the final round was that “I know there is only one of you, but it feels like you somehow managed to gang up on us both”.

Wreck and Ruin game

Wrecking and ruining

It turns out I might be a good person to know in a post-apocalyptic world. Mr Meeple should perhaps rethink his plans to throw me to the zombies for the precious few minutes it would buy him for escape.

Werewords was basically 20 questions with a tenuous attempt to add a theme: it didn’t really work. New York Slice didn’t sound like my kind of game, but was actually better than expected. I think it needs a reasonably large player count to work though which might limit its easy playability for us.

Kingdomino was great fun. Again, I won this. Are you noticing a theme here? For someone that pretends to know so much about games, it’s surprising how often and easily I beat Mr Meeple at them. Come to think of it, he almost always gets games wrong the first time too. And he doesn’t seem to be able to roll a die for love nor money. I’m not sure really he knows anything about games. I’m not sure he isn’t really two children in an oversized rain-coat just saying game words in the hope no-one notices.

Anyway Kingdomino is cheerful, colourful and super quick to learn. It also offers some interesting strategy choices. It’s not surprising it ended up being a Spiel des Jahres nominee.

After wandering around for a while unable to get a game of anything Mr Meeple or I had on our list of must-try games, we were persuaded to play Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne. We’d played Cosmic Encounter once before. With Mr Meeple’s ancestors. Using the simple ruleset. And we still got it wrong.

He really is just pretending to know about games, isn’t he? It’s all so clear now. At least he isn’t pretending to know anything about finances, or we’d be sleeping in gutters and eating dead rats out of railway bins.

The Iron Throne

Here come the girls

The fact the Iron Throne is essentially a Cosmic Encounter re-skin wasn’t really a promising start then. Unfortunately the theming made the game worse by removing flexibility in negotiations and not being able to redistribute you power across players. It therefore suffered from a snowball effect for the winner of the first encounter. Margaery Tyrell completely dominated the game because there was no reason not to use her to kick every single backside around the table. After yesterday’s Prisoner Dilemma treachery, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that Mr Meeple also deceived me on multiple occasions. He’d promise to negotiate, and then attack. Or he’d say he’d play a low value attack card, and instead play a high one. Or he’d offer to support me in battle and then withdraw leaving me to my fate. I’m not naïve though. I was negotiating but it wasn’t because I trusted him. I just had lousy cards.

The rest of the morning involved a lot of wandering the streets and avenues aimlessly, completely unable to get access to anything worth doing. We then went in search of food, but everywhere was completely queued out. Whilst wandering around trying to see if there were more food outlets upstairs and round the corner (no luck there) we found a map showing that there were restaurants in a different building. We made the 5 minute walk to the Resorts World and were astounded by how quiet it was. It was pretty much the usual level of busy for a shopping centre out-with peak hours, but we’d just come from the equivalent of a Saturday rave. I don’t think it had fully hit me just how exhausting the crowds and noise were until we got away from them. Rather than queuing for ages, we managed to get a seat in Costas, and I even got caramel shortcake! I just asked for it, and they had it! I didn’t have to queue for it. I didn’t have to fight for it. I didn’t even have to kill for it, although I did that anyway just because.

When we got back to the Hall it was busier than ever and we immediately went to the Press Room for sanctuary and succour. I was seriously flagging (lunch hadn’t perked me up, even with all that sugar) and I needed a nap. I am like a toddler and don’t cope well on limited sleep. I’m also like a Gremlin, in that I don’t cope well with irregular feeding. Don’t soak me with water either. Not because I start pupating but just because I don’t like it.

Mr Meeple agreed I should go back to the car for a wee sleep, and he would come and find me when he was ready to leave. If I woke up before that I would go back to the Hall and we would find each other – somehow. Sometimes a day at the UKGE is more like the parting scene in Last of the Mohicans. I WILL FIND YOU.

It took 15 minutes to walk to the car and 20 minutes of blasting the air conditioning to get the car to a tolerable temperature. By tolerable I mean ‘low enough that it wouldn’t cook a chicken, but still high enough that it would probably cook an egg’. While waiting for the inside temperature to dip below lethal levels I wrote up some of my experiences in a notebook the old-fashioned way. Remember, my mobile phone had usefully decided to die shortly before the trip. I still don’t have a replacement. It’s like living in cave-people times when all you had to help you survive was a car, a laptop, a tablet, and your wits.

I put the seat fully back and went to sleep hoping it would be a nice, refreshing experience in the middle of a packed car park and in an unlocked car. However, it was not to be. Less than 15 minutes after falling asleep, I was abruptly awoken from my slumber by an aggressive-sounding Scotsman breaking into the car. It turned out to be a ragged and worn Mr Meeple, visibly aged by his exposure to the UKGE crowds.

He was not a happy bunny at that point and just needed to get away from the NEC. We didn’t so much exit UKGE as evacuate.

Before going to sleep I had been googling how to get to the Bullring by public transport because I was struggling to cope with the inconvenience of not having a mobile phone. We decided though it was too late to go there. I also needed more sleep so we just went back to the hotel. I got a short nap, and Mr Meeple went downstairs and spent 90 minutes writing his massive rant about his UKGE experiences. It was obviously cathartic though as he was much more relaxed by the time I went downstairs to join him. I assume it was the writing that soothed him, rather than my absence.

I persuaded him we should go out for dinner, and we found a nice Indian restaurant nearby. This convention has been terrible for my diet by the way, and it was nice to get something to eat that wasn’t purely refined carbohydrates, chili heatwave doritos and tube based crisps.

After dinner we decided to head downstairs into the hotel lobby and actually play a game! That shouldn’t seem like such an indulgence when visiting a game convention, but it absolutely was.

UKGE audience

A greater diversity of attendees

There were 5 tables of gamers there happily playing away, and I was the only woman. In the convention centre, the demographic seemed fairly diverse with lots of families and some couples in addition to groups of 20 or 30 something males. It seems from our small sample at least that the more hardcore attendees who were willing to travel from far enough away to need to book into a hotel were much more likely to be men.

We played Century: Spice Road, which immediately became a firm favourite with me, and not just because I won. Twice. Even when I was sure I’d been beaten the second game, Mr Meeple still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. There is no common theme here, no common theme at all. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Mr Meeple understood this game either. He spent a lot of time chewing the cards and tasting the cubes used to represent the spices. Maybe he’s been nothing but a dog all this time? Is that why he wears a collar and always does his business out in the garden? Is that why he pokes his head out of the car window and barks at the postman? It all makes sense now.

Century: Spice Road spices

Delicious spices

Spice Road has gorgeous art, a nice engine-building mechanic, and metal coins! I loved the metal coins so much. When another gamer stopped by our table and asked how the game played, I let him finger the coins and he was similarly impressed. I also went off on a massive tangent listing all the games it took elements from – anyone who knows me or has had the misfortune to be taught by me knows that I am the Queen of Tangents. It was also probably partly my way of saying “I know about games. I’m not just here because of Mr Meeple”. There was no suggestion at all that I was being perceived that way, but when you’re female in a male dominated environment you sometimes have to show you know twice as much to be taken half as seriously.

Spice road coins

Show me da money

It was great to actually get to play a good game in a relaxed setting without people hovering around. The absence of the general noise of the convention was soothing by itself, and we both felt much better by the time we headed upstairs to bed.

On Sunday I was even more sleep-deprived, thanks to the 4:30am wake-up. Because we were awake so early we headed to the NEC for 8:40am, thinking that after walking from the car park we’d only have a 10 minute wait until it opened. It turned out it didn’t open until 9:30am unless you were an exhibitor or staff. We had our first exciting experience of queueing at the UKGE as a result. Still, it was time to take a few photos, sit down on the floor, and write some more notes.

As we were at the front of the queue, I figured we had a pretty good chance of getting to the Splendor Expansions demo table before anyone else, and persuaded Mr Meeple to make a bee line for it. Sure enough, it was empty, and the demonstrator got his friend to join us for a game. The friend was a nice youngish man who had never played Splendor before and wanted to see if it would be a game his family would enjoy. I pretty much ignored him for the entire game because I’m intense when I play Splendor. I like pretty jewels, and I like to win. Play hard or go home. I’m sorry if the nice man we played with was expecting me to go easy on him just because he was a novice. Much like the diamonds I’ll be buying from under you, I expect my competition in a game to shine under pressure.

My splendor win

Mic drop

We played the Orient expansion which introduces some amazing new cards. Cards with TWO jewels on them! Wildcards you must immediately pair with a gem card to make it another gem of that type! Cards that let you immediately take another card from the row below! Mr Meeple enjoyed the game, but was aware of several small groups hovering around. It could be a little distracting trying to focus on the game while hearing the rules being explained to the eager masses eyeing up the table. It’s also easy to feel self-conscious when you’re being observed like a monkey in the zoo. I tuned that out and focused on winning. Which I did. Decisively. Did I mention that I love Splendor? Seriously, bring your A game next time, Mr Meeple. Oh wait, that was your A game? That’s really sad.

We then managed to play the rather underwhelming Beyond Baker Street, which was essentially a reskin of Hanabi. We then failed to get to talk to someone that had tweeted Mr Meeple the previous day looking for a chat. We did manage to get a useful catch up with Nigel at One Free Elephant, which Mr Meeple has already discussed in his final post about the convention. We didn’t have time to try out Carcosa though, because we had a meeting scheduled with a games publisher. Mr Meeple has already covered this too. It was really useful but it meant we had to rush off for The Dark Room and ended up at the back. I got in without a ticket because Mr Meeple had been sent to the library to print them off (or something, all I knew is we had been separated and I had no phone to find him again…) and I was worried he wouldn’t get to see it, or me, ever again.

Beyond Baker Street

Holmes, you don’t astound me.

He appeared a few minutes after we were seated and it was all good. It turned out someone had already collected our tickets, but the lovely staff said they would remember us and let us into Knightmare Live without tickets after lunch. We had bought tickets – we just didn’t have the tickets. This was the almost instant karma for our earlier press pass related identify theft.

The two events were quite a nice way to end the convention.

The UKGE family zone

Fun and games

After lunch (at Costas again, with a tiffin this time) there was no time to go back to the Hall. Mr Meeple hadn’t realised the hall shut at 4pm on the Sunday, so I think that left some loose ends for him. I think he still wanted to see if there were any more games worth buying. It had been literally hours since he last bought a game and I think he was getting a bit jittery as a result.

With that, we headed back to our car to begin the long drive back north, beyond the wall, into Wildling country.

So, did I enjoy the convention?

I enjoyed the time we spent playing games that were worth playing. I enjoyed the seminar and the events we went to and the meetings we had. I didn’t enjoy the Saturday crowds and the wandering aimlessly round and round the hall. I didn’t like that I couldn’t do chin ups in the bathrooms because they were too busy, because for some reason not everyone does that.

What should I have done differently, and what have I learned for next time (if there is a next time)?

  • Don’t trust Mr Meeple to have a plan. I’ve known him long enough to know that he is not much of a planner. Or a thinker. Or a doer. Also, as I established above, he might well just be a stray dog I adopted.
  • Don’t even think about trying to vlog in the hall. We took a camcorder and Mr Meeple even bought an external mic for it. We quickly realised it was a crazy idea and it never even got used. It was hard enough to take photographs.
  • Have a clear idea of what you want to see, and what you want to get from the Expo. I should have investigated the events schedule myself, and also the games on offer, to see what would be most enjoyable for me.
  • Don’t feel like you have to spend all day every day at the convention. Birmingham is a pretty big city, and it has stuff of its own that you might want to enjoy.
  • Make sure you have a working mobile phone! Make sure it’s well charged! That way you can go your separate ways and be confident you will be able to reconnect later. If you don’t then reconnect, at least it’s intentional.
  • Make sure Mr Meeple doesn’t book you into a hotel on the M6. I suspect this is advice that has value for a very small number of you. I hope so, anyway. How many of you is he booking into hotels? For what purpose? How long has this been going on??
  • Take earplugs. Wear earplugs. Don’t under-estimate the value of your sleep.

Perhaps next time I’d also be inclined to stay the extra night so that we don’t repeat the experience of arriving at the Forth Road Bridge at 11:00pm only to find it’s closed indefinitely because of a ‘security incident’. The Forth Road Bridge, by the way, is still around an hour and a half away from home. We made slow progress back from Birmingham because apparently it’s necessary for every road in the UK to be dug up at one time. Leaving the next day wouldn’t have made the journey much shorter, but it would have considerably reduced the risk of Mr Meeple falling asleep at the wheel and killing us both in a fiery carpocalypse. We got enough of that with Wreck and Ruin.

Mr Meeple losing a game

A gracious loser

I don’t know if we’re going back next year – it’s harder for me in any case because my holiday time isn’t very flexible. It’s an odd experience. It’s an intense experience. And I think it’ll take some time before I know for sure whether it was a good experience.

We’ve got a few posts on the topic of UKGE: