First off, sorry for the lack of pics! :( next time!
I've only been to this convention once before, in 2013. Back then we got there Friday night, Saturday we mostly just shopped at the Expo and played games at the hotel, and the Sunday fell kinda flat as people were thinking about getting home.
So this year we went for a Friday & Saturday based plan instead. Got to the con mid-afternoon on Friday and it was a nice relaxed atmosphere, not too difficult getting around the trade halls, playing demos and finding tables for open gaming. Good times! I didn't realise beforehand that they've actually added Thursday night open gaming to the schedule, and that'll continue next year, so another option to consider.
I also made use of the Bring & Buy this time - where you can sell your games minus 10% commission. This was also upgraded for 2015 to include an online system where you add your games. Once you arrive they give you printed labels to stick on the games and they're ready to go! I sold Robo Rally, Bang! The Bullet and War of Indines. I'll need a bit more of a clearout next year...
Shopping-wise I had a list of games I was pretty much determined to buy - assuming I could stay on budget - it was just a question of how cheaply I could find them! Picked up Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, Keyflower, Dungeon Petz, Castles of Burgundy, Biblios and Istanbul. The only real 'impulse' purchase I made was The Resistance: Avalon. Total spent: ~£150. My budget: £150. Scooooore
Onto the gaming! The nerds: Me and Christina, Tom, Dan (Beer) and Jen, Nic and Rob
Summary of games played:
- First up was a demo of Colt Express. Like Nic said, Bang meets Robo Rally. The demo was really well done, we all had a good laugh with this one. Perhaps even more chaotic than Robo Rally and plays in half the time.
- Christina and I also had a very quick demo of Krosmaster Arena, as we'd seen a copy in the Bring & Buy for £30. It seemed pretty cool, looks like it could get quite tactical with the different character combinations as you learned more about the game, but someone snapped it up by the time we went back to the Bring & Buy and I don't think we'll be paying £50+ for it...
Afterwards we hit the game library and went nuts.
- Played Camel Up for the first time, I think there's a bit of strategy in there somewhere but it seems more fun to take wild punts and make noise. Scales well with alcohol.
- Played our first Resistance game, Resistance Avalon. And then played it again. Then once more for good measure. Really stellar game, and the highlight of the day. Would pick this over Werewolf on most occasions - lack of player elimination is a plus, and it feels like there's more opportunities to gain solid info / reads, even if you're one of the Generic Good Guys (tm) (which I was every damn time)
- Played Sheriff of Nottingham - which the blokes had played once before - it was deffo enjoyable but it's not a game I'll want to play all the time. I got quite drunk by the end and can't remember who won, just that it wasn't me. I talked a good game but put contraband in every single bag which is rarely a good idea.
Had a quick browse in the trade halls to start the day off before things got too hectic, and...
- A quick demo of Dobble, just me and Christina, after we heard that Asmodee were giving away goodie bags to the first X people to demo a game that day! Kind of an advanced Snap with several variants. Surprisingly solid filler game. Christina wants a copy.
Then back to the game library for some more new stuff!
- Belfort, a 2-5 player worker placement game with some area control thrown in for good measure. Send workers out to get goods / do stuff, then choose which of the building cards in your hand to play. The board is divided into 5 sections, each section has one of each type of building in it and scoring is mostly based on who has the most buildings in each region. Quite a lot to think about and yet not difficult to learn, it'd make a good gateway into heavy euro type games.
- Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King. Lots of things you can do in this game, we tried to keep it simple but still got a rule or two quite majorly wrong, which sped the game up a lot and messed up the balance. Still felt too long, I'd pick Descent over this any day.
- Ninja Dice: Slightly meatier dice-in-a-box game where each player rolls a set of 'objectives' they have to beat and the other players throw 'threat dice' to punish the active player for pushing their luck. The box is awesome. Solid filler game.
- Hanabi: Co-operative card game where you know everyone else's hand but not yours, and have to try to give information to each other in the most efficient, yet safe way possible. Or just do what Christina and Rob did: get a bit bored and cheat. More of a family game.
Then back to the hotel where Dan, Tom and Jen were just finishing up a game of T'zolkin (really fantastic but really heavy worker placement game)
- Alchemists: Ambitious new game to break out late on Saturday night but Jen had gone to bed so there were only 4 of us, and I seized the opportunity. Quick summary: Place workers to take actions. Get ingredients, combine two ingredients to make potions to test on either yourself or a student. Figure out what the 'alchemical' (one of 8 unique chemical makeups) for an ingredient is based on what potions it makes with the other ingredients. There's a hidden 'lab' for each player and a Cluedo-esque notepad for each player to track stuff with. Publish research on ingredients to gain reputation. Sell potions to adventurers to get gold. Debunk other people's research if it's fishy. Buy artifacts for special abilities and extra VP at the end. In the last round there's an exhibition where you can make specific potions for extra reputation.
There's an absolute ton going on in this game, but it all makes sense with the theme and even though it was a bit of a slog to teach it to three tired newcomers it was great. Highlight of the day, already one of my favourites.
I really wanted to play Dead of Winter too but it was gone 2am at this point and we all headed off the next morning, so that'll have to wait until my next gaming meetup :( (maybe after the Necromunding on the 27th?)
I can't speak on how it compares to Essen but I think the Expo is getting better and better, and am already looking at booking next year in. The 'street food' vendors in the car park and the games library are massive improvements on our last visit. Open gaming space is still at a premium, so next year they're looking at moving the trade halls and tournaments into the NEC nearby. I think the response to that news so far has been mixed but I'm excited to see how it'll turn out.
We all had Friday off work this year, though I had uni stuff to do in the morning, which won't be the case next year. So I'd quite like to get the Friday off again but head down on Thursday evening and spread the gaming goodness a bit more evenly over Thursday - Saturday/Sunday rather than trying to pack in as much as is physically possible into two days. Maybe with more of us going next year and more gaming space available we can set up 2-3 gaming tables and play all sorts of goodness!