One of our regular gamers Kenny has kindly combined a list of tips for attending the expo (and other conventions), the expo is constantly growing so we’ll update this before the event next year if we find out more! Over to Kenny: I had never been to a convention before going to last years expo for the friday with the mrs. If you’re in the same boat and are thinking of attending, you should absolutely do it. I went last year without reading up very much and the first thing that hit me was how busy everything is. It was a bit of a shock to begin with although it must have worked out ok in the end as this year we went back for two days. –
EDIT (This is a few years out of date but all of the advice is still good)
1 – Crowds
Coping with the crowds was vital for me in order to get the most out of the expo. Getting from a to b can take longer than you think. Popular attractions like the bring and buy will have long queues at peak times. Saturday tends to be busier than Friday and first thing in the morning / last thing in the evening can be quieter. The expo guide has a great index of stands and exhibitors. There are also larger maps available at the expo merch stand by the main entrance. Planning goes a long way. Use the big stands to orientate yourself, there’s also street names and row numbering which makes things even easier if you are that way inclined. The volunteers are really helpful, but don’t expect them to know everything.
2 – Pacing yourself
Walking around the expo can be knackering. There’s plenty of places near the main hall to take time out. If the weather is on side you can grab something to eat and sit by the lake if you need a break from gaming. Otherwise there is a Wetherspoons, Starbucks etc in the NEC itself and a shopping centre at the Genting complex under 10 min walk away with all the normal chains you would expect.
3 – Bags
Pack light to stop you getting worn out. If you have a full rucksack and you are walking around the main hall you will be annoying people by hitting them, The aisles were a lot wider this year but space is still at a premium. A large tote bag worn on your shoulder or a messenger style bag is much better as you can hold it in front of you or keep it under your arm. Either way, be considerate, and be aware of your surroundings. If you are buying a sackload of new games there are a couple of options to make your life easier – right outside hall 1 there is a cloakroom that will accept bags of any size for £1. We left a large suitcase on both days this year. Also Leisure games have a game drop off service where you can leave as many games as will fit in one of their large storage boxes. I think they charge £2 but haven’t used the drop off so can’t confirm (Rumours it got very full). Pack a few tote bags as well to bring your wares home in. Don’t feel you need to bring lots of games for open gaming there is the lending library and there will be lots of games to play there perhaps bring a few unusual ones or your favourite.
4 – Demos
My favourite thing at the expo is getting to expand my gaming palette by demoing games I wouldn’t normally get to play. Demos are popular though! A theme develops. Its rare you are going to walk up to a booth, find a game set up with a demonstrator ready to sit you down and start teaching. My first advice for getting a demo in is probably a bit obvious – hang around by a table in play. The demonstrators will be happy to let you know how long a session is likely to take to finish. Sometimes you might get lucky and be able to squeeze onto a table if they haven’t quite started yet. Bear in mind there may be other people who have been waiting for a game to finish but aren’t hovering right beside the table. Something that worked out well for us in this situation was offering to play as a single player to allow more people to join in. Have a list of games to check out so if one game is in the middle of a 2 hour play though you can head to another stand. If we saw a table finishing, even if it was a game we had no prior knowledge of, we often sat down anyway. This works especially well with shorter games set up near longer games you are waiting for. That way we got to maximise the number of demos we got in. There’s something great about speed learning a game, then muddling through with strangers, and then having everything coalesce. –
5 – Accommodation
Tricky one this. The expo is gaining in popularity year on year and the hotels are not stupid. Supply and demand means the hotels nearest the NEC will hike their prices. This year was particularly bad as there was a film and tv memorabilia fair and two nights of take that concerts to compete with. However prices for 2018 have gone a bit nuts for the hotels that have opened up bookings. It might be worth waiting a bit for more hotels to release rooms for the 2018 dates, but be prepared to stay further way than you’d like if everything gets snapped up. Not going to be very helpful here – i’m afraid i think its totally worth the price being within 10 minutes walk of the expo so you can pop back and forth for naps / food / showers / dropping games off etc. You can easily ignore me though, there are plenty of hotels in central birmingham and trains from the nec are frequent and run pretty late. –
6 – food & drink
There was some great reasonably street food out the front of the hilton hotel last year. Unfortunately it’s enough of a trek that we didn’t bother this year and went for the very expensive but uber convenient starbucks for lunch. It suited us at the time as it meant we could sit outside even when it was raining. wouldn’t recommend tbh, especially as there are little coffee cart stall in the main hall itself. If you want a proper meal at a table the genting complex has chain restaurants etc. –
7 – open gaming
The large open gaming spaces in the main hall and it the hilton are an amazing buzzing tabletop mecca. I could happily wander about just looking at the games people are playing as it seems like i only recognise 1 in 10. It’s very easy to strike up conversation with people and next year i definitely want to make a point of spending more time doing just that, and hopefully playing more games with strangers. There are bars inside or near the open gaming spaces in the hilton. Prices are middling to expensive with pints around £4 for a plastic pint glass. There were also tea and coffee stalls but a mad person must have been in charge of their opening hours as they were closed by late evening. During the afternoon the space in the main hall is surprise surprise pretty busy. As soon as the main hall closes a vast amount of people head over to the hilton. However getting a table should be easy as long as you go first thing in the main hall and any time up until 5.30 ish in the hilton. If you want to find space at peak times you’ll need to be patient, like getting a table in a busy pub. Don’t expect to find a spare table for 6 people unless you have time to wait for people to finish. Alternatively use the space in your hotel lobby. A flag system showing you are looking for new players should be in place but the last two years flags have been hard to find, so we’ll be making our own for next year.
8 – People
Gamers are really friendly. Not sure why this came as a surprise, but it is a welcome one. Its great having people carrying new games around as there’s nothing we like more than talking about our new purchases. I totally recommend getting involved with as much as possible. If you are shy try finding an open gaming table somewhere nice and early and wait for people to join you – they’re highly likely to ask if you want to play something with barely any effort on your part. Or if you are a smaller group or couple ask if people mind if you join them. Some people will be saving space for friends, wanting to play something specific etc, but not everyone. One last thing – There are supposed to be little union jack flags for people to use as a sign that their table needs players. I didn’t see one of these but reckon a home made sign would do the trick even better.
9. On a budget
if you are on a budget consider attending for one day, bring your own food and drinks that is fine, consider which day is best to attending, Friday and Sunday are quitter. Friday opens later but sunday closes early. Saturday is busy.
Do you research and do not park near the airport, the NEC or train station are often cheaper.
Expo 2018 Update
There was a lot more open gaming space but no player wanted system so bring your own.
Food and drinks continues to be very expensive with the only hot drinks in the evening in the Hilton being over £4 for a paper cup -cup of tea. The food vendors are still outside but they weren’t allowed to server hot drinks and with the NEC closed the options get smaller.
The games expo grows each year last year there was enough space but if the growth continues this year may be a bit cramp.
Friday and Sundays are a still a lot quieter.
Still an amazing convention and well worth a visit to the see the size and scale of the hobby, There are lot of other amazing convention up and down the country and each has their own focus, we’ll try and write more about those we’ve visited including Airecon (Loads of open gaming) Dragon Daze and Great indoors. On our list to try is Handy Con, and Bay con. We’ve also been to a few charity day with the Lancaster prostate cancer event being one of the longest running.
It is still a great convention, but if you had to go for a single day, i’d focus on what makes the expo great. Don’t worry about open gaming, take no games. look at the many shops, try some demos, do a seminar and wander over the bring and buy. Do what you can to do at home, shopping, tournaments, show or seminars.
it’s a great place to catch up on old friends.
Should you still have time and energy, then play one of you new purchases or join another game. Pack light, you and everyone around you will appreciate it.
If you are going over multiple days, the best days to shop are Friday and Sunday (less good but more possible haggling as people may not want to take stock home)
We tend to do events or open gaming on the Saturday. It is good to try and do a seminar or live show. Jolly Boat, Dark Room, Knightmare live and artemis are all highly recommended. Do the things you can’t usually do at home.
Parking wise do your research the train station was reasonable but no so much of a bargain last year so we just got a multi day NEC parking tickets and left our cars then and did shuttle runs to the hotel as it had expensive and limited parking.
Water fountains are a huge boon this year so bring a water bottle! The flag system is back this year which is a great news for trying to arrange games. It’s a huge place with 1000s of gamers so finding an empty spot in a game is harder than is seems .
It is worth mention the Hiltion is a good 10 minute walk away from the NEC, plan your trips and bags carefully.
Also Taxi’s are possible but they may cost more than you think as the road system can be a bit winding and long winded.
It is a great event and I get the feeling they really care and try the bring and buy, the bag drop and the open gaming areas are growing alongside if not faster than the shops. Well worth a visit just do a little bit of research. or just turn up and wander and be surprised
A few tips on how YOU can help with inclusion and accessibility https://stonemaiergames.com/inclusivity-at-events-how-to-create-a-welcoming-environment-this-convention-season