I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Tabletop Gaming Live – i’d been to UKGE several times, as well as more gaming-focused cons such as Handycon, but never to a smaller trade show-style convention. I’d heard lots of stories of last year not living up to expectations, with lower than expected attendance and unhappy vendors. Having said that, i’m always keen for a con, and was definitely looking forward to a weekend of gaming and shopping! I’d arranged to demo for Alley Cat Games on Saturday, so decided to book a hotel locally and stay for both days to give me more of a chance to see the rest of the con. Having somehow ended up volunteering for the setup shift, Pushi and I set off bright and early (6:20am) on Saturday morning for Alexandra Palace…
The first thing i’d say about the weekend is that I definitely had a good time. I had the chance to try a lot of new games, demo some myself for Alley Cat, catch up with some great people and make some new friends too, as well as grabbing a few bargains! I did my best to spread the word about Gweeplefest and had quite a few promising conversations about raffle prizes.
In terms of layout, TTGL was like a mini-UKGE, with a Trade Hall as well as a second hall largely consisting of Open Gaming space and Tournament areas. The Trade Hall featured most of the major publishers, as well as plenty of smaller ones and a few of the bigger retailers. Despite being nowhere near the size of the UKGE Trade Hall, it did have the advantage of space – the aisles were nice and wide, and it was usually quite easy to get a demo of anything you wanted without too much waiting around. Crowds were noticeably sparse, which well may be a downside for the vendors, but made a refreshing change as a visitor. The Open Gaming space was significantly busier, especially on Saturday, and it was quite a challenge to find an open table.
The venue itself has certainly seen better days, but is still a much more interesting building than most convention halls – i’m not sure the NEC has anything to compare with the Rose Window or the Organ on its raised platform. Food and drink facilities seemed decent, although I was glad of my exhibitors pass allowing me to use the exhibitor-only cafe, which was much less busy. The coffee shop at the Palm Court entrance was particularly nice, with seating under the glass roof. There was plenty of free parking, although it was a bit of a walk up the hill to the venue!
It was my first time volunteering at a convention, and i’d definitely recommend it to anyone. I love teaching games, and working with Alley Cat allowed me a sneak peek at Tungaru, their newest offering (coming to Kickstarter in late October). It’s a light-medium action selection/resource conversion game where you play a tribe exploring the archipelago of Tungaru, spreading your culture throughout the various islands and gathering the right combination of fish, coconuts, shells and pearls to attract the best nomads. everyone that played a demo enjoyed it, and i’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the Kickstarter. I also got a first decent look at Chocolate Factory which is on the verge of fulfilment and will be available at retail soon. I love the components and the puzzly aspect of the game, as well as the very thematic conveyor belt mechanic, and i’m now regretting missing out on the Kickstarter for this one.
Although volunteering took up most of Saturday, I did still get a chance to explore and try a fair few other games over the course of the weekend. I taught Tapestry to another group, which went over very well – it’s moving further up my list with each play. My favourite demo of the weekend was Deep Blue – the new release from Days of Wonder. As you’d expect from DoW, it’s a nicely produced family-weight game with lovely art and an appealing theme. It’s themed to a SCUBA diving expedition, with each player controlling a pair of boats, exploring different locations and trying to gather the most treasures from their dives. It combines deck building, action selection and a push-your-luck bag building mechanism and would be a great way to give children or new gamers a taste of each of those mechanics. The only issue I had with it was the lack of colourblind accessibility. It uses plastic gems in 7 colours to represent various precious metals, gemstones and dangers you may encounter on your dive. Days of Wonder did a really good job in making these 7 colours distinct enough for me to tell them apart, but they really fell down on this with the cards. Many of the cards in the game score bonuses for certain types of treasure, and matching the colour of the gem icon on the card to that of the plastic gem itself proved impossible for me – if they’d included a symbol, letter or number on each, this would have resolved the issue entirely and removed my only niggle with what is a very nice game. As it is, I think I would struggle to play competitively, which is a shame, but the rest of it is probably good enough for me to see past the issue.
I also got to try out Super Punch Fighter from Plaid Hat – unsurprisingly, it’s not the most subtle of games! It was great fun and really evocative of classic 80-90s beat ’em up arcade games. Everything about the game encourages carnage from the start, and it’s really satisfying to launch huge combos on your opponents. It’s a light, fast, silly experience and definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. The only downside to me is that I think replayability is limited, largely due to a bit of a runaway leader problem – once someone gets ahead it’s pretty hard to stop them, as even getting knocked out doesn’t really slow you down, you simply respawn in your next turn with no real disadvantage.
Right at the end of weekend, I finally got a chance to try CGE’s Letter Jam. This had proven one of the most popular demos of the con, and was busy almost all day on both days. It’s an innovative party game where each player has a letter in front of them and can see everyone else’s letter but not their own. They have to work out their letter, and ultimately word, by piecing together clues from the words that others spell out using their letter. I can definitely appreciate the cleverness of the design, but i’m really not a party gamer and so don’t think it’s a game for me. I think a lot of people will love it, and it feels unfair to say anything bad about it as it’s just not my type of game. Ours would be a much less interesting and diverse hobby if we all shared the same tastes.
One thing that stood out compared with other weekend cons that i’ve attended was the number of people visiting for a single day. I’m used to the large majority being there for the full weekend, but TTGL seems to be entirely the other way round. In part this makes sense, as the size and crowd levels of the Trade Hall meant that one day was comfortably enough time to see everything. I do think that the venue contributed to this significantly though – it really isn’t easy to make a weekend of TTGL. The venue itself closed at 6pm on Saturday and 5pm on Sunday, and this was strictly enforced, with security having everybody out of the doors within 10-15 minutes of closing time at the most. After 6pm on Saturday, there’s no central local venue for open gaming, and no hotel of any real size in the area either. I was lucky enough to be part of Paul Grogan’s Patreon supporters’ dinner on Saturday evening, and from there Paul taught Trismegistus to a group of us in our hotel lobby (a very good game, hidden behind some poor graphic design choices and an awkward rulebook). If I hadn’t made these plans, I very likely would have visited for Saturday only, as there didn’t seem many other options locally.
Overall, I definitely had a good time and would go again. I think that one day would definitely be enough if I hadn’t been demoing on the Saturday, but I think it has the potential to be a really great weekend with a few small tweaks. I’ll most likely be back next year and hope to see it develop and grow over time into a true weekend show rather than a single day trip. After all, you can never have too many weekends away gaming!