The UK Games Expo is Britain’s biggest tabletop gaming event, and thousands of players are set to descend on the Birmingham NEC this weekend for a frenzy of dice-chucking, card-shuffling and cube-pushing.
Exhibitors at this year’s show include some of the hobby’s top publishers. But it’s also a great place to sample new releases from up-and-coming designers. Here are some of the games we’re most looking forward to checking out.
Ticket to Ride: New York
Alan R. Moon
Ticket To Ride may be the perfect game to introduce new players to the hobby. Its rules are simple and intuitive, but it rewards clever play and creates a sense of ruthless competition as players battle for control of critical rail routes.
Over the years the original game has spawned a succession of follow-ups, and this latest addition to the lineup aims to condense its massively successful formula into a smaller, faster-playing package. Rather than a sprawling map of North America, you’ll battle to connect points across Manhattan. And instead of the series’ trademark plastic trains, you’ll be marking your territory with miniature New York taxis.
Like its rail-riding predecessor, the game rewards players for connecting routes between locations on its map. But you’ll also be able to rack up bonus points by visiting some of the city’s top tourist attractions. With games playing out in around 15 minutes, we’re keen to see whether TTR:NYC can retain the cutthroat feeling of its big sibling.
Century: Eastern Wonders
The second instalment in a series that began with 2017’s Century: Spice Road, this game of rival merchants sees players competing to dominate the trade in precious Indonesian spices.
Where Spice Road was a Splendor-like card game that challenged players to shrewdly trade inexpensive spices for more valuable ones, Eastern Wonders comes with a board representing the islands producing your priceless wares. You’ll sail between them, establishing outposts for your mercantile company and aiming to snatch up the most sought-after goods before your opponents.
It looks a touch more complex than the first game in the series, but it plays in just 30-45 minutes. And if you already own Spice Road, you’ll be able to combine both games to unlock a new “From Sand to Sea” play mode.
It may feature a cast of cute anthropomorphic bunnies, but this game of rival rabbit nobles is deceptively un-fluffy. You’ll take on the role of a long-eared lord or lady aiming to seize territory, harvest resources and establish a more powerful and prosperous domain than your opponents.
Each round sees players drafting cards to take different actions: laying claim to new lands, building cities, sending bunny champions on perilous adventures. You’ll need to think carefully about the cards you choose and the ones you pass to your opponents, maximising your scoring opportunities and adapting your tactics to the whims of the randomly shuffled deck.
It looks tricky, and Bunny Kingdom comes with looks as well as brains. Its artwork looks like something from a lavish children’s book, and it comes with a host of colourful plastic rabbits to populate your ever-expanding lands.
This sci-fi survival game plays out aboard a stricken spaceship invaded by a hideous extraterrestrial monster. One player takes on the role of the creature, while the others become the desperate and terrified crew, fighting for their lives against a menace they can’t hope to overcome.
It’s about as close to Alien as you can get without inviting a lawsuit, and Lifeform makes a powerful attempt to capture the atmosphere of its big-screen inspiration. Its board looks like the display panel of a futuristic computer system, and its illustrations are painted in shades of blood, steel and shadow. It attempts to create a sense of mounting tension and panic, with players trying to load vital supplies into an emergency shuttle and escape before the ship’s self-destruct system engages, reducing their attacker and anyone left on board to their constituent atoms.
Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr
Michael Fox, Rory O’Connor
We don’t know much about this upcoming release from studio Hub Games, but it comes with an incredibly poignant theme that’s a million miles removed from the kind of generic orc-bashing commonly found in gaming.
Players become hospital workers caring for the victim of a massive heart attack. He has days to live, but he’s haunted by hazy, distant memories. You’ll attempt to piece together his past to help him find peace in his last hours.
It sounds mature, intelligent and emotionally provocative, like the plot of a high-brow novel. We’d love to see the hobby explore this kind of material more often, and Holding On is one the games we’re most excited to get our hands on at this year’s expo.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
Przemysław Rymer, Ignacy Trzewiczek, Jakub Łapot
A story-driven game of elite investigators and ruthless criminals, Detective sees players working to uncover the truth behind a collection of heinous crimes. Using your powers of observation and deduction, you’ll race against time to discover clues, chase down leads and bring perpetrators to justice.
It’s an interactive mystery in the spirit of the classic Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. But while it isn’t the first game to explore the crime genre, it brings a decidedly modern twist to the table. To solve each case you’ll need to trawl the internet in search of information from real-world sources like Google Maps and Wikipedia, as well as from the publisher’s custom-built database where you can find an assortment of records and documents to help you connect the fragmented elements of your investigation.
It promises an intriguing blend of analogue and digital elements, mixing in-game fiction with actual online sleuthing. Its artwork looks to be inspired by gritty crime dramas like The Killing and CSI. There’s also an overarching plot to the game, with connections between its various cases revealing themselves over time, like a slow-burn mystery series on Netflix.
- The UK Games Expo takes place in Birmingham from 1 to 3 June. Tickets are available from the organisers’ web site.
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