Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Monday 16 October 2017

Rundown of PLAY Expo Manchester 2017

This weekend we visited PLAY Expo Manchester - a two day gaming event at EventCity Manchester. We knew that there wouldn't be a big presence for board gaming, but decided it was worth checking out since we were in the area. Amy is also a video gamer and we have a growing retro games collection so there was likely to be something more than board games on offer for us. Here's what we saw;

Board Games
Board games were certainly not the focus of this event, but we still managed to see a few games. The main tabletop gaming area included demos from Esdevium Games and a stall run by Fan Boy 3 - a large board game store in central Manchester. Esdevium were demo-ing a number of family games, such as Codenames, Century Spice Road and Pandemic Iberia. We tried the one game we had never played which was NMBR9 - an interesting tile laying game which I'll describe in this week's first impressions blog. Fan Boy 3 had a good selection to mimic what Esdevium were demoing, as well as a good selection of new releases. We were fortunate enough to find out about their giveaway on Twitter and came away with Monstrous, from CMON games, as well as a good selection of promos.
Esdevium's demo area
Other than this main area, there were a couple of other zones with tabletop games. The Museum of Gaming had an area dedicated to the history of gaming including classic board games and classic consoles. We sat down to play Fox and Geese which is a traditional game that could be played on a Solitaire board. It's definitely imbalanced, but for me playing as the fox, it makes a nice change to beat Amy at an abstract game. Somewhat dissapointingly, the other area was the retro board game area which had games like Connect Four and other mainstream titles and unfortunately appeared to be more popular than Esdevium's demo tables because they were offering something familiar and accesible to families.
Fox and Geese
The retro board game area. This was before the event opened - later in the day, this area was full of families.

Finally we did get a chance to demo some 'new releases' in the party game genre. Before you get too excited, this was not a positive experience. Unfortunately their two games, Quick and Dirty and Random Minds didn't really seem to fit with the family vibe of the show, focussing on how vulgar you could be to impress other people. Think Cards Against Humanity, but a lot worse and a bit less funny...it's a shame their was nothing better on show as that will be the impression some video gamers and families have of card games based on their experience at this event.
Quick and dirty -  a little bit like Scattergories but delierately provoking you to say something dirty. However, nowhere near as dirty and offensive as their second game...
Other gaming
Most of the hall was, of course, dedicated to video gaming. There wasn't much in the way of big companies trying to sell you their AAA games. Instead the games were allowed to speak for themeselves, with large areas devoted to consoles and arcade machines set up with classic games that you could sit down and play for free. There was never a long queue to play anything and a great selection to choose from. We stuck to the retro game side of things and enjoyed a number of classics such as Donkey Kong and Pacman. There were also well over a hundred pinball machines all set to unlimited free play, covering everything from simple machines to over-engineered machines based on popular movies and TV shows.

Pinball wizard! (Not so much...)
There were also a fair number of indie developers on show, our particualar favourite was Boom Boom Barbarian, which is a rythm game that has you fighting off invaders in time to the music. Some of the more retro designed games had even set up demos inside faux arcade cabinets which really brought some charm to Raging Justice, a Streets of rage style beat em up.

Boom Boom Barbarian is a fantastic take on dance mat or guitar hero style games and very, very addictive.
Amy finally managed to get her hands on a VR device, which was one of her goals of the Expo, she tried Red Out on the Oculus Rift, which she found a little dissapointing. The rift itself hurt to wear which stopped her from playing longer than 5 minutes, hopefully it was a defective unit, but the picture quality and experience was impressive. The HTC Vive was far more comfortable, but alas when she tried to demo Tilt Brush the screens were frozen blank... we get the impression that the first generation of VR devices all have a few bugs which need to be ironed out before thy can truly become consumer options, but the potential is vast.

Amy looking the part with the HTC Vive
Shopping at PLAY Expo was incredible. For us, with our rather petite retro game collection, the choice was overwhelming. While there were plenty of your run of the mill 10-30 pound games, all the stalls had a fair range "holy grail" items. I managed to peel myself away from a copy of Streets of Rage 3, but we did walk away with 3 N64 games and 2 SNES games.

So many retro video games to buy, but also a few sneaky tabletop games!
I was expecting a really big convention. The visitor numbers for last year were apprently 26,000 - bigger than UK Games Expo, so I expected a huge space and a lot of people. Instead it was one pretty small hall and the only area that ever felt crowded was around the retro game sellers. Perhaps they get a lot of visitors for just a few hours, which increases the visitor numbers without the space feeling crowded.

Overall, the convention actually suited our tastes because it wasn't too serious on the veideo games side, with a focus on indie gamers, retro console gaming and the pinball and arcades. Nevertheless, as board gamers, there's not much there to warrant a visit - as you might expect there are mainly gateway games to intice a new audience for the board gaming hobby. It's also not a traditional video gaming convention, with new releases or hot new games, but instead more of a celebration of video gaming's past. 

In our opinion, PLAY Expo is more of a day out for families or a shopping opportunity for retro gme collectors who can then also take some time out to play on retro consoles, as far back as Commodores and Ataris, almost like a board game cafe style set-up. We spent a fun few hours at the PLAY Expo, but will probably stick to more typical conventions in the future.

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