Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016

July 15th - 17th saw the Star Wars Celebration Europe at the Excel Centre in London. As soon as the tickets were announced, i bought myself a weekend pass. I had NO idea what to expect from the European version of the show, but i did watch the highlights from the previous year. Tickets booked, i had to wait a whole year before i could actually go.

I got myself a nice small room in Stratford, near the tube and only about 10 mins away from the venue. Small hotel, which could benefit from installing some air con, but that was my only complaint about the accommodation.

The first thing you will note about an event like this is the queuing. You have to Queue for EVERTHING. I am not a big fan of this, but you needed to be in the queue to get in - so we waited about 30-40 minutes until the doors opened. Once you made you way through - wow. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. However, i took control and made myself take my time. I knew there were no panels to see in the next hour or so, so i slowly walked around the place.

The size was big. I think they had the whole of the Excel Centre - but only about a third was full of exhibition stuff (and some of that was catering as well) - but this was a LOT. However, those pesky queues started again. It would take about 90 minutes to get to the official merchandise store - yeah, not going to happen. You had to be one of the first people through the door for the immersive experience - i was not prepared to queue through the night. You even needed to queue to get into some of the stores (Underground toys - they had some exclusive show POP! Vinyls - however, i managed to get mine on the Saturday afternoon when i realised they had PLENTY). There was a big area that had the costumes from Rogue One - and this had a massive queue as well. I managed to get in there on Saturday morning by getting there as soon as i could - and really enjoyed the experience.

The heart of the experience for me were the panels. There were a number of halls where guests would be on the stage giving a presentation. I went to a large number of them, and only missed out on 2 that i wanted to see (the first i turned up a minute too late, and the second i was in the talk before it (about Palitoy) and wanted to get into the next one - so did everyone else). The biggest bummer was missing out on the Rogue One panel. I knew i wouldn't be there in the main stage, as that was wrist-banded (yup - you needed to queue up for that one), but it was being streamed to the other theatres. So i queued up for one of the stages and was told i needed a wrist band. Bah, i mooched over to the stage where they were filming for the Star Wars show and tried to watch it there - with about a 1000 other people. There was a big ATAT in the way as well :). YouTube to the rescue - and i managed to watch it proper then.

There was so much going on that weekend ... here are some of the highlights.

  • Build R2D2: I will starting to build my own Astromech droid. It doesn't have to be R2D2, but i will be building one. The guys on the stand were amazing and the panel was inspiring. I will be blogging about the whole process ... and expect it to take about 2-3 years in total.
  • UK Garrison: I have been contemplating joining the Garrison for sometime, and i think i will make it happen very shortly. I want both an Imperial and Rebel costume. Seeing all the CosPlay on the steps was inspiring - i want to be there for next time.
  • The Photo Ops: I went by myself - a mistake i will not do again. There were sooooo many photo ops. A lot of the stores had special set ups where you could take a photo with a bit of scenery. This ranged from the carded toy backing, Hoth Wampa cave, Corridor on Death Star to asking people in Cosplay.
  • The Panels: There were so many panels, and all were presented well. I picked up a lot of information about the areas i was interested in. I dropped into a couple where i had zero idea of what it was about.

Apart from the queues, the only other disappointment was the cost. It felt like we were being fleeced. £145 for Mark Hamills Signature!!! Books and Comics at full price (Chuck Wendigs new book Aftermath:Life Debt has a exclusive cover - which was the same as the normal one except it stated it was an Exclusive cover). If prices were a little more sensible, i would have gone for a photo with some of the stars, but i was basically priced out. Food and Drink is what i expected it to be.

Will i go again next time? For sure. Will i go to the ones in America - if i could afford it ... Hell Yeah. Booking a holiday around Star Wars will be fun - but i need to share it with someone - as i don't want to miss out on the photo ops.

Thirsty Meeples Visit

Our group decided it would be a great idea to visit Thirsty Meeples in Oxford. Our primary aim was to playtest a couple of games that we were considering purchasing on the UK Games Expo.

Our trip down was very easy. A quick drive to a Park and Ride, and a cheap bus fair to the centre. Finding the shop was very straight forward, and we got there nice and early. We had booked a table for the whole day, so turning up a little early was not an issue. We ordered drinks and proceeded to get our first game (Cosmic Encounters). The game was easily found, and the staff inside were very knowledgeable - and gave us most of the rules in a brief and concise manner. We were up an playing the game very quickly. This was a running theme for us through the day - the staff knew their stuff. However, as the shop got busier, they got more distracted.

Thirsty Meeples has a MASSIVE range of games. We played 3 larger games, and all but one was in great condition. The one that wasn't, Mysterium, is a VERY popular game. The cards were a little dog eared and some of the playing bits were missing. This was not a major issue as we were just play testing a game and not buying a used copy.

As the day moved on, the shop got busy. REALLY BUSY. In fact, too busy. I had my chair knocked a number of times, and the temperature of the shop rose massively (and were by the door). We started to get people hovering around us (we later found out they were the next people on the table, and i think they wanted to pressure us in leaving sooner). A negative was you were rushed to get out of your seat once your time was up. They do not book anything with a 5-10 minute handover period.

As we booked for the day, we had to have our food there. It was very expensive for what you got (essentially over £3 for a basic sandwich). Drinks were also too expensive, and if there were cheaper - we would have bought a lot more. Same with the snacks - far too much for what you got. These are things we have learnt and will not do again in the future.

Overall

We enjoyed our trip, but doubt we will go again. It was just too expensive (£150 for 5 of us for the day). We could have spent that and bought the games we had played. However, we wanted to experience the cafe scene - and it was a price we were willing to make. The premises is too small for their business, and they need to expand. Too many tables/chairs were cramped together - and the quality of them was very poor. I would recommend most people to go for the one off experience - but only go for a morning session, and eat away from the place.

International TableTop day Nerdblock box

Geek and Sundry host a show by Wil Wheaton (he of Star Trek fame) called TableTop. I love this series as it promotes playing games (board, card, role play etc). It's funny, informative and helps to remove barriers to playing board games. Since 2012, they have a International TableTop day - which is a day to celebrate and promote board games. A fantastic idea. The downside is i am based in the UK and events are few and some distance away. Not to worry, I will help with setting up a small event for my friends.

To help celebrate this day, Geek and Sundry endorsed a special Nerdblock box. For those that do not know what these boxes are, they are a box (bet you didn't see that coming), which contain a number of items that relate to the theme. There are a lot of companies out there that are doing this now, but i suppose the best known one is LootCrate (which is my favourite, as it has consistent high quality products along with Exclusive Items). They arrive every month, as long as you pay the subscription.

So, Nerdblock were going to do an International TableTop edition. OK, i will have to pay more for shipping to the UK, but not to worry, more than happy to pay the extra. My main aim of getting the box was to promote TableTop day and to give away a couple of the items as prizes. I knew three of the items already - Some coins, a pack of playing cards, and a Magic the Gathering figure. There would also be a t-shirt and other stuff, some related to Geek and Sundry.

The Box Arrives

The box arrived and i opened it. My thoughts are below (along with the cost based on the packaging - in $US):

  • T-Shirt: A black t-shirt with the TableTop logo on it. Must admit, it was not a massive stretch of the imagination of the designer(s) to come up with that. Never mind, it's a t-shirt and i like t-shirts. ($8.00)
  • Playing Cards: Well, they are bog standard playing cards - with Geek and Sundry backing. A massive opportunity was missed here to add some custom cards - such as Wil and Felicia as the Jokers. I have loads of cards and these are all special designs so chances are I will not really play with them. ($3.46)
  • Magic The Gathering Toy: This was the largest item in the box. I got the Ajani Goldmane figure. It has been MANY years since i last played Magic, and while this is a good figure, it has a very limited audience appeal. It is not event a Limited Edition to this box, and can be purchased anywhere. ($4.00)
  • Geek and Sundry Coins: Which are NOT in fact coins but tokens. They come in a velvet pouch with Geek and Sundry on it. There are 5 tokens, in metal, with an enamel backing - Warrior, Bard, Wizard, Rogue, Barbarian. Would have been nice if they were all different colours, but so far this is the best item in the box. ($6.50)
  • Wil Wheaton's D6: It is known that Wil Wheaton throws rubbish dice, and this is a fun item that mocks this. All sides have a single pip, meaning you will always roll a one. I like this as it is fun and something related to International TableTop. ($4.00)
  • 'No Survivors' notepad: This is a bog standard cheap notepad with some Geek and Sundry branding on it. ($3.48)
  • Comic: Shadows of the Vampire, Dungeons and Dragons issue 1 comic - with a Geek and Sundry custom cover. Nothing more to be said about this - not interested. ($4.50)
  • Pencils: PENCILS. WTF. Yup, we get a couple of 'Embrace Your Weird' Felicia Day promotional pencils. And what is really annoying, is they cost more than the Figure. Go figure. ($4.05)
  • Bumper Sticker: Another promotional item that i am sure Geek and Sundry have in their offices. Really dull and boring. ($2.00)

My thoughts

All in all, this was a disappointment and a missed opportunity. There is very little that is good here, and VERY little to do with the theme at hand - International TableTop day. Personally, I think they should have ditched all the crap and instead added a number of promo items for board, dice, card games. Something's that could be used. What would have been bloody amazing is the inclusion of a GAME - something that people could have played on the day. I dunno, a fun version of Fluxx with artwork around the cast and other Geek and Sundry shows. Dump the generic figure for that.

Too much crappy self promotional stuff was also included. Pencils, really??? Bumper Sticker!?!?! When was the last time you used a bumper sticker?

If this is the quality that we can expect from Nerdblock then I am more than happy to NEVER sign up with them. A golden opportunity has been missed.

Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island is the only Co-Operative game on my Gateway games list. There are many other Co-Op games that I could have included (the biggest name probably being Pandemic). However, I opted for this game as I feed it is easier to get in to, and players have a better chance of winning.

What's it all about?

This is a Co-Op game, so you will be working together to complete the game. You either all win, or you all lose. Like most co-op games, there are many ways to lose the game, and generally only 1 way to win. To win forbidden island, you need to work as a team to get all the treasure from it, and escape via the helicopter. Sounds easy doesn't it? The only problem being the island is alive and is trying to kill you - by slowly sinking.

The board is made up of all the tiles in the box being randomly shuffled, and place on the gaming board. Some of these tiles will indicate if it contains a treasure. These tiles will slowly sink, and this is done by a deck of cards that is drawn after a player has completed his turn. The first time the card is played, the tile gets submerged - but can still be used. The second time, it sinks completely and the tile is removed from the game. If the heli-pad sinks - the game ends.

To help get the treasures, 4 people with special abilities are used. Each person generally has a single skill, such as delegating their turn to someone else, move diagonally etc. On the surface they don't sound great, but when the group talks about their move - they can work well together. Once a player completes their turn, they pick up treasure cards. These cards can be exchanged to get the treasure from the treasure tile. Generally you will need 4 cards of the same treasure type - but only have a limited hand size - which can also include some special cards. Each player has a number of actions they can perform during the turn - such as move to an adjacent tile, shore up a sinking tile, claim a treasure, trade cards with another player on the same tile.

Once all 4 treasures have been recovered, all the players need to head to Fool Landing (the heli-pad) to escape from the island. This is how the players will win. They will lose if any of the following occurs:

  1. The treasure tiles sink before the treasure is secured
  2. They are unable to get to the heli-pad due to all surrounding tiles have gone
  3. A team person drowns
  4. The flood level meter rises to the top

Verdict

This is my favourite Co-Op game because while it is challenging, it is not crazy hard. This opens the game up to new players to have a go. It is also very cheap, and has some great re playability to it. I still prefer a good worker placement game, but some people prefer to work together as a team - and this is a great game for them.

Camel Up

Continuing my review of my top gateway boardgames, sees us ready to place some bets on some camels. I only knew about this game at Christmas, when a friend introduced me to it. It was really easy to get to grasps with the rules, and the level of fun instantly made this a favourite of mine.

What's it all about?

In a nutshell, this is a betting/racing game. Each round, camels will move around a track based on a random dice role. The camel to finish first (or on top) wins the race. The players need to place bets on which camel they think will win. There are limited bets that can be purchased, and the sooner you get the bet, the bigger the return. You can also bet on which camel will come last as well. There are special rules that someone can play, such as an oasis on the board (which can help generate some money).

Camels move based on the dice result from the pyramid. This is a hollow container that has all the dice in it (one for each camel colour) and a number of it. This tells the game which camel to move and how far it can move. If camels land on the same spot, they will stack up. Any camel that has a camel on top of it, ALSO moves that camel. This can lead to some pretty amusing betting on which camel could eventually win the race.

The races generally take about 15-20 minutes. The player with the most money at the end of the race wins.

Verdict

This is a light hearted game and one I would love to play more between more serious games (such as Lords of Waterdeep, Stone Age, etc). It doesn't take too long and generally matches our needs for a five player game (it can support up to 8 players). Because it is a fun quick game, it is suitable for younger people, however people may object due to the gambling mechanism. Our group does not need to worry about this, as we are all adults.

If you are after a quick, fun game (that is not a card game - I still recommend Sushi Go for that), then this is the game for you.