After going digital only last year the UK Games Expo was back in Birmingham for the 2021 show this past weekend. With hundreds of stands, from huge publishers and distributors like Asmodee and Fantasy Flight Games, through to indie companies like Stuff by Bez, UKGE 2021 had plenty to offer visitors. We were fortunate enough to go to this year’s event, and before we get into the top games it is important to commend the UKGE team for putting on a safe and fun event! Now, without further ado, what were the stand out games of the show?
Going into the show Iki was one of the games that stood out. This new edition is being distributed by the brand new company Hachette Boardgames UK, who aim to bring across a range of games we otherwise wouldn’t see in the UK. Being the first members of the public to get hands on with this new edition of Iki the game certainly impressed. With a rondel mechanic seeing players squabbling over movement to get to the right stands along the Edo era market, the core game was already exciting.
Action spaces are then upgraded by employable worker cards, there are fish, pipes and tobacco to purchase along the way for points and players can simply not do everything they want to at once. With a multitude of ways to score points we were pulled in many directions and I can see these decisions only getting more interesting with repeat plays. Iki is scheduled to release in October, and is well worth checking out.
Kemet: Blood and Sand
This was one of the surprises of the show as I had previously somewhat written off Kemet, for no more reason than the Egyptian theme has been often pasted on and overused. The theming may not exactly matter too much, with teleporting to obelisks possible, though it does allow the game to look pretty epic, with 3D pyramids and such. It was the gameplay that made Kemet Blood and Sand make the list though.
A game with area control and clashing armies can fall flat with only two players, with the tug of war not always allowing for a balanced experience. With a reduced play space at two players the map was still a tight design that funneled the two players across the map and into each other. With locations that were beneficial to hold at the end of a round, there were instantly key battlegrounds.
Combine this with the fact the whole game can be the players throwing plastic miniatures at each other, with an interesting card combat mechanic, and even at 2 players Kemet was a lot of fun. As with many similar titles I can only see the fun increasing as players learn the upgrade tiles off by heart and more armies join the fight.
Previously we have reviewed the Funkoverse game series and Unmatched sounded almost too close in concept. Since playing it’s clear they both allow players to have completely different characters fight each other, like Medusa vs Alice in Wonderland vs Bigfoot. However, the similarities after this are rather minimal. There are no real objectives in Unmatched other than taking down your opponent, with each character coming with a deck of cards and a health dial.
With only three possible actions on a turn players can maneuver, play an action card or attack. Whilst sounding like a simple choice the player has plenty of options, actions and attacks via their deck. It’s this deck that makes each of the characters feel rather unique, such as King Arthur having his massive damage dealing Excalibur. This does seem like another system where gamers would want more and more sets to be able to battle anyone available against each other and seems aimed more at gamers than the mass market.
The short playtime of around 15 minutes probably helped but there was one game at the show that I returned to play multiple times. Trek 12 is a brand new roll and write being distributed by Hachette Boardgames UK and Pandasaurus Games. Themed around climbing and making routes across the mountains, players roll the dice and choose whether to take the highest, lowest, add the values, subtract the values or multiply them.
The twist is that each of the 5 options can only be used 4 times, with 19 numbers to write. With scores of 80+, my highest of 65 points shows I didn’t quite crack the puzzle but want to go back and try again. Plus, there are 3 different mountain sheet pads included in the base game, alongside envelopes of secret additional content! A very exciting part of a fun and fast roll and write.
Tim Fowers is the man behind games such as Paperback and Burgle Bros, and at UKGE one of the titles he and his family were demoing was Sabotage. Mixing the likes of Battleships, with hidden movement, deduction, dice allocation and action programming, Sabotage is the classic good vs evil. With an evil lair to walk around the two teams work against each other to either hack and stop the doomsday devices or stun and locate the pesky spies.
We played a 2v2 game at the show and with a narrow victory for the spies the game went down to the wire. As the spies we felt like we were constantly being penned in whilst trying to stop doomsday, while our opponents were using motion detectors, flashlights and even RPGs to stop us. Teamwork was key for both sides and I look forward to at some point being able to play Sabotage again, with 1v1 and coop against an app also possible.
The UKGE 2021 show was packed with so many great games. This list could easily have included the likes of Catan 3D, Red Rising and the giant 2 meters wide version of Tsuro. It was great to be back at an in person convention and these were just the tip of the UKGE highlights iceberg.