Everyone Needs A Shed

Life and Games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Father, Grandfather, Husband and Independent UK Game Designer.

Archive for UK Games Expo

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The Returned

Anthony Boydell
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The last time I was at the NEC was in 2019: the year we'd snaffled sixty advance copies of Foothills and it was going to be a big year for both Tony Boydell and Surprised Stare Games! Jump cut three years and it's 7.30AM on quiet Friday; I find myself seated alone on a Ledbury platform, waiting for a Midlands train, with a rolling suitcase packed with 'pitch' prototypes (Attention All Shipping & Polygonia), copies of Corgi Dash and an emergency bag of Wine Gums.

With hotel prices (£200+ per night), NEC parking fees (£17 per day) and fuel costs (£40 for a round trip over 130 miles) being somewhat outrageous everywhere and all at once, it seemed entirely sensible that my return to one of the big conventions should be via the far cheaper daily commute model: slower, perhaps, and at the whim of train crew shortages certainly, BUT a £15 fare and £3 all day car parking is just too obvious a decision.
From gallery of tonyboydell

It also helped that Alan and Charlie (SSG, of course) had arranged to get me an exhibitor pass, so I waited at the entrance to Hall 2 as the gates opened at 0900HRS exactly and the UK Games Expo was officially happening. Ten minutes - and a short walk to the CORRECT rendezvous point - later, I was in. Lordy, oh Lordy but it was busy:
From gallery of tonyboydell

10 mins after opening...

Some errands needed to be completed first (including package deliveries, confirming pitch times with Matthew Dunstan and so on) and there was plenty of bumping in to old pals along the way as a zig-zagged through Halls 1 and 2:
From gallery of tonyboydell

(clockwise from top left: Hanno Girke (Mr Lookout Games), Tim Clare (Author & Gamer*), Smoox Chen (Taiwan Boardgame Design),
Bez (Stuff By Bez), Andrew Harman (YAY Games) and, of course, Michael Fox (II) (Wayfinder Games)

The first pass of the main spaces took about an hour after I'd spent a short while catching up with the Paulls at their big, centrally-located, shared Stand: copies of the Deluxe Master Set bowed the point-of-sale counter while a smart preview of the new Kingmaker glowed proudly in a cosy nook.
From gallery of tonyboydell

Echoes of designer Tony popped up in other places too: Scandaroon apparently making its annual appearance in the Bring 'n Buy and a mock-up of the UK Mini Express expansion map on the Moaideas Game Design booth:
From gallery of tonyboydell

While the initially-emptied suitcase filled up with goodies during the day, this return to 'normal gaming life' was more about the people than the cardboard; aside from those pictured above, it was glorious and marvellous to share chattering time with Brett J. Gilbert, Rob Harris, Ricardo from Devir, Amy at Chaos Cards (museum patrons!), the Alley Cat Games crew - Caezar, David Digby and Mike Nudd (who also signed my museum-donation copy of Waggle Dance from Bright Eye Games) and Iraklis from LudiCreations! The latter - Alley Cat and Ludicreations - were in receipt of the aforementioned design pitches and discussions about a new edition of Paperclip Railways respectively!
From gallery of tonyboydell

And a good morning to you! Tuffley gamer, Jeric, helps out Smoox on the TBD stand.

It was all rather overwhelming and, come 4PM, I'd reached my nervous limit and scurried back to the station to come back home. Indeed, anxiety has played no small part in my personal return to a gaming scene that was entirely within my comfort zone three years ago; both Bastion and Leiriacon saw me take to one side with a powerful home-sickness. I expect the same will be true of Essen Spiel also - which may affect my travelling channel/"duration of stay" decisions. What a silly, old sausage I am.

Saturday was cold and damp on the provincial railway but brightened, no end, by a chat with a French Digital Artist as we waited for the 0700HRS; there was a conference - Electromagnetic Field (https://www.emfcamp.org/about/travel) - at nearby Eastnor Castle, where she was speaking and networking. I learned about vintage computer system art/graphic recovery projects and 3D printing with actual clay...and was happy to recommend XX by Rian Hughes in return.

Arriving just before the barriers dropped, I was able to perform a quick wander through the Bring 'n Buy: a totally over-the-top warehouse of too much stuff and no chance of reviewing it all. I did spot a couple of must-buys for the Museum, though:
Schoko & Co. (£5) - the first Euro Game I ever played. I played it on the same evening that Alan and Charlie Paull came over to discuss the official foundation of (and document signing for) Surprised Stare Games! We played S&Co by way of a celebration...and my life changed from that point!
DropMix - introduced to this daft nonsense at last year's Gathering of Chums by the amazing Mr Matt Green, this was an insta-grab at £20.

A couple of hours saw me returning to demo duties on the SSG stand by way of a thank you; it was also, I guess, a chance to formally (and physically) close off that chapter of my gaming life. I was joined by Nick O'Neill, John Shepherd and Neil (one of my oldest pals) in advance of our scheduled sit-down-and-play of a much-anticipated Atiwa:
From gallery of tonyboydell

Hanno delighted in berating me for not remembering the rules but, to be honest, it all came back to me in the first 20 mins; we stuck a little on the 'Maintenance Phase' - where a rigorous sequence of river pollution, bat management, income and 'breeding' occurs - but everything sped up and ran smoothly by the mid-game.
From gallery of tonyboydell

Worker placement gets you resources - which you take from your personal supply in most cases - and more space on which to place those resources (landscapes and settlements); the key is to get a good flow of those resources back-and-forth because you'll be spending the stuff you've grown and nurtured on your terrain in order to grow your family (the villager - pink - pieces in this prototype) and attract as many fruit bats as possible (those beyond your first 10 are a VP each).
From gallery of tonyboydell

While you're focused on your own tableaus, you do need to snipe some of the plumber WP spaces before the others. It's another winner from Mr Rosenberg, you mark my words!
From gallery of tonyboydell

(from left) Neil, Nick, John and me.

Caroline (The Dyslexic Gamer) joined us as an observer - and sometime 'Advisor to Tony' - during our Ghanaian exploits; we also teased out the story of how Lookout Games was started from Hanno, when he stopped by to see how much of a hash we were making of the new jewel in their crown!

After shitting fruit seeds over the Savannah, the Blogger Quartet (me, Caroline, Nick, John) and Neil grabbed a coffee and some rare tablespace to relax, chat and prepare for our 15.30 seminar: "Blogging on BGG":
From gallery of tonyboydell

Tucked away in the business suites, thirty or so folks turned up to hear us talk about the Whys, Whens, How Longs and Oopsies of Blogging:
From gallery of tonyboydell

As MC, it was absolutely bloody marvellous to hear other people speaking about the process, the benefits and the pitfalls of pushing the written word in a cosy, largely-unrecognised corner of the biggest board game resource on the Internet. The audience listened patiently to our musings, asked insightful questions and we filled a happy hour together; we even got a lovely round of applause at the end!
From gallery of tonyboydell

If I have one complaint at all, it's that the Seminars - in general - seemed to have been given the most cursory of glances: the printed catalogue containing no detailed list (referring one to the Web, instead), no recording facilities** and very small signage. I'm not sure if I could suggest any better ways of tearing folks away from the lure of boxes-for-sale beyond:
a) holding the seminars in the evening, when the trading halls are closed and provide no distraction; and/or,
b) asking Shut Up & Sit Down to sit in on everyones' session!
Pausing, briefly, to meet and chat with Lisonix (Superfluous Somethings) and her cheerful family***, I was once again carried off to the trains by a cold, hard knot of flight response in my stomach.

It was 100% worth the time and effort to come back to the show: familiar, friendly and fun. Of course, as my first ever time experiencing it from "the other side of the demo table", the show was tinged with melancholy. However, long-awaited fist-bumps, handshakes and hugs with friends - old and new - washed all of that away in an instant.

The Obligatory Haul Picture:
From gallery of tonyboydell


*check out Coward: Why We Get Anxious & What We Can Do About It at your local, independent bookshop
**Don't worry: John did get something on his iPhone!
***pop a pair of glasses on Mr Lisonix and he's the spitting image of Matt Leacock!
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Tue Jun 7, 2022 6:20 am
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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Blogs But Were Afraid To Ask

Anthony Boydell
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It has been confirmed! There shall be a 'Blogging about Life, Games and Gaming' seminar at the UK Games Expo on the Saturday 4th June at 1530HRS in the Piazza Suites.
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The last time I checked with my fellows, we were lining up the resplendent MrShep, the cameratastic Caroline Black and musical genius Nicholas O'Neill (as well as Yours Truly).
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It is to be a serious, if good-humoured, discussion about the Boons and Banes of regular blogging, tricks and tips and traps and anything else anyone wants to ask about: I plan to have an actual 'plan'!
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Mark it in your diaries, bring your comfy cushions and a sheaf of questions you've always wanted to ask...
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Fri Apr 8, 2022 1:05 pm
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Fingers crossed

Anthony Boydell
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Yesterday, then, the news that HABA have pulled out of 'live' conventions for the rest of the Year; hot on the heels of last week's Essen no-shows for 2F-Spiele / the Spring 'n'attendons pas' from Asmodee (and all of the brands that we love so much). This is, simultaneously, a Bad Thing(TM) - because it means no decent massive convention for a second year - and a Good Thing(TM) - because it further justifies my own own apprehensions about travelling to Germany.

Conversely, the small Events seem to be quite happy to pick things up again; despite a small number of 'Ooh, I've been pinged!' Track & Trace scares, it seems the UK Games Expo managed to beetle through with relative success: albeit as a shadow of it's usual self. I had a long conversation with pal Richard about his couple of days there and he was rather glowing about folks' adherence to masks, social distancing and general conscientious behaviour; this is great to hear - especially after the UKGE's original position of 'Do as thou wilt' in Q1, which firmly kiboshed a number of firms' attendance plans.

UKGE had approximately 10,000 unique visitors - about a third of the usual number - which, if extrapolated to Origins and GenCon (in terms of a 'drop off') would mean about 10,000 and 25,000 respectively; the latter sounds like it's pushing the boundary, though. Now...take 2019's Essen attendance of 208,000 (!) and we're talking 70,000: a truly monstrous - just over a Euro 2020 Wembley Stadium Final - number! So where is the physical and psychological cut-off point? For smaller conventions in the UK - Handycon (500), GridCon (300), Bastion (100) and my own Gathering of Chums (60-ish) - the prognosis would seem more positive; borne of word-of-mouth/friends attendance, there's better assurance that attendees will be sensible and considerate.

The barometer, I feel, will be Spring 2022 and - fingers crossed - the return of Leiriacon (500): it was the first Con to be Covid-cancelled (I had actually packed my suitcase for it when it was initially-postponed) and, should it go ahead, it would be a welcome marker of confidence and optimism: here's hoping, eh?

From gallery of tonyboydell
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Thu Aug 12, 2021 8:33 am
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No Expo Please, We're Skittish.

Anthony Boydell
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Newent. Glos
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This year I shall not be going to the UK Games Expo for the first time since it's incarnation in 2007. There was a thought that I might scoot up on the train tomorrow (Saturday) and meet up with a few peeps - Gibsons Games, Geeknson (to talk gaming tables), pals Richard and Jimmy, Alan & Charlie - but I can't shake the memory of recent 'large Freedom events' that have resulted in Covid super spreads.

From gallery of tonyboydell


Quote:
One of the local Newent pubs went balls out to hold a Euro 2020 final spectator evening, last month, and their Duty Manager ended up infecting 10s of people ie. most of the customers
It's been 18 months since my last Con attendance - the excellent Bastion in North Wales - and, since then, I've missed two Leiriacons, a Gridcon, (now) two UKGEs and an Essen Spiel: that's the totality of my regular, board game industry interaction right there!

So, today - as the hordes descend upon Birmingham's NEC for Day 1 - when I would've already constructed a Stand, beer-ed it with some Euro pals at the Ibis/Hilton and wandered the aisles for cheery 'Halloo's and early doors promos, I shall be feeling that tremble in the tummy: the churning thoughts that bounce between "great things are happening and I am missing out" and "It's going to make everyone sick!" - anxiety, eh?!

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If anything, it further highlights my unwitting and unwilling separation from the inner circles of board gaming in the UK: a space now almost entirely populated by a few highly-focused publishers and a cacophony of content creators; the role of a designer, alone, seems to be rather an irrelevance. See? That FOMO is seriously messing with my self-esteem!
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Fri Jul 30, 2021 10:23 am
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A Virtual Con

Anthony Boydell
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Well, I managed dip in to the UKGE this weekend but ONLY via the Discord environment. Every time I wandered to the UKGE's 'Main Stages' page, there was either nothing on (with nothing showing in the schedule) OR it was some tedious marketing wank in which I had no interest. Or I got an Error 500.

No, indeed; it was a bizarre experience using 'Find' in Chrome to locate the virtual stands of peeps in whom I was interested rather than scrolling up and down the randomly-shifting presentation. Unless, of course, you were a major sponsor in which case your 'feed' was anchored to the top of the page.

With Essen Spiel coming up (so) fast, it was apparent by mid-Saturday that UKGE weren't doing anything new or - indeed - interesting; as Chris B (Cardboard Edison) remarked during a fascinating Sunday PM chat, they've just added company website links to a version of their Hall maps, pointed everyone to Discord and told us to get on with it. And then asked for payment at the end (one of those "Pay what you like" things: I 'like' zero, thanks).

I've no real idea how Essen will be different but with 1000+ exhibitors and however many thousand new games, this 'special friends get all the perks' shite just won't wash for a worldwide audience. UKGE had 'three' stage feeds but the real action was on the Twitches and the Discords the companies set up themselves: by-passing the imaginary NEC altogether!

Several things became apparent:

Sitting around 'live' and waiting for folks to ask for a demo is a massive waste of time - smaller Co.s would be better served pre-recording run-thrus and just making them available for ad hoc viewing. With no way to see if anyone is 'waiting' online - unless they make themselves known - the inactivity on a page will just move people along.

Sales - if you expected to get the same throughput as a real Con then you won't have been running a company for long; oh, I am SURE plenty of folks will swear blind that 'It was really good for us!" and "We sold loads!" but they're lying. Watching someone struggle through a 15 minute filler on Tabletopia for over an hour will NOT result in a ker-ching moment...which leads me to:

Online gaming at a virtual con is shit: Tabletopia and TS are utterly-terrible windows for demoing and should be stopped immediately. Prototypes? Yes! Actual demos? No - fuck off with the cumbersome shite: folks absolutely MUST see real limbs doing real things with real components.

Trying to digitize the physical geography of a Con is so wrong it's wrongetty-wrong.

Thus did the chat with Chris B continue and one thing I noted made the most sense: it's about the LIVE ACTION, people. Demos are time-consuming and procedural so can be pre-built for those who want a taste; where things really begin to shine is with the conversations, the arguments, the teasers and prototypes, the jokes and the friendships (old and newly-forged) - this is where an online Con needs to focus: the LIVE content.

Where UKGE had three 'special', pre-populated ('pre-sold') stages, Essen Spiel needs one virtual stage per exhibitor.

Exhibitors should be encouraged to provide regular - possibly constant for some - content, streamed from their 'Stand' with a previously-published (and indexed) central itinerary for the entire show - a fantastic example of how this might look can be found here:
. We've all got phones, so what we need is a means of linking them to a dedicated company stream and letting us all get on with it!

The tabletop events site does it all beautifully: searchable, linked to ticketing where needed and maintains a personal calendar on your behalf!

Of course, who would spend the money needed to set this up just for 2020? No-one in their right mind BUT...isn't this the perfect way to make Essen Spiel permanently available to the non-200,000 who make it to the actual Halls in future? Imagine we're on our stands with cameras and phones streaming our 'face-to-face's to anyone who wants to drop-by from home?

Imagine being able to add a company's game to your cart - from Oz or Brazil or Iceland - knowing that a shopper will be circling the Halls all-day and picking stuff up as they pass, drops it off at a parcel despatch Hall and come the Sunday the whole lot is taped and posted?! Payments could be handled as electronic payments-back to us at an end-of-show reconciliation. Jesus, this all sounds do-able and up-to-date.

We, at SSG, could stream interviews, play-thrus of prototypes, offer a Big Brother-style snoop option (rolling all the time), dances, us showing off our hauls and so on and so forth. All of it accessible from a Netflix/Amazon Prime-style wall of scrolling rows for 'Wargames...', 'Miniatures...', 'Small but perfectly formed Independents...' and so.

While we may never have to do the wholly-remote thing again (fingers-crossed), there's no reason to take the lessons learned forward and just raise the whole Convention concept to the next level!

(c) Tony Boydell and Chris B, 2020.
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Mon Aug 24, 2020 1:50 pm
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das Fett kauen

Anthony Boydell
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Me and one of my favourite ever Germans, Mr Ulrich Blennemann, chew the fat:


(Uli is very quiet - uncharacteristically - in this one)

Here's fun: how many times do I side-eye my live 'room next door' stream from Dominic Cummings?

I do miss my European friends so very much.
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Thu Jun 25, 2020 6:30 am
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I'd love to be cynical but what would be the point of THAT?!

Anthony Boydell
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So, the UK Games Expo 2020 has (finally) been cancelled. Of course, with one of the founders being a General Practitioner, you'd think the 'board' knows best...the second time of asking, at least.

Many things shall be missed and the eager public must wait 12 further months before they can sample the game-y delights of:

1. The bring-and-buy may be missed by some; I mean where else can go to find
a) second-hand games at retail prices;
b) Kickstarter 'bundles' for double the pledge level because "I changed my mind during the fulfillment period / I want someone else to have a chance of getting a copy / I need to make pure profit out of some FOMO twat" (delete as applicable) - please note that hire of the fork lift trolley is extra to cart the crap out of the Halls;
c) something that a child called 'Robin' scribbled in biro on, and scuffed the corners of, in 1972 and is now - apparently - worthy of a 'Vintage/Antique' mark-up; and,
d) enough copies of The Works discounted material to build a life-size replica of Leeds Castle out of.

2. The obscene prices for an 'artisan deli sandwich' (seagrass and mud falafel, Broiled Essex Ham on Wheated Crack, "Vegan Cheese" ie. packing cardboard from the Hall 4 skip etc) and a thimbleful of fizzy 'spring' water.

3. The cannot-be-found-elsewhere 'Mother and Son' companies and their mortgaged brainpan outporings: "My Auntie Likes This: The Card Game", "Everyone Still Loves Monopoly Spin-Offs, Right?!" and "Trivia Games Deserve A Re-Evaluation". If you're really lucky, you might bump into an old guy who used to work for Waddingtons in the 1980s and has a loft-emptied pallet of two player abstracts to hawk - mainly Nine Mens' Morris knock-offs, though.

4. Bumping in to famous media types as they amble - ve-ery slowly up-and-down all of the aisles looking for something in particular (Shangri-La, probably) but 'happy to stop for a chat and a selfie' every three yards; and,

5. Watching the receipt for three nights in a bland air-conditioned box spool off the printer with something four-figured at the bottom.

Ah, well.
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Wed Apr 29, 2020 6:40 am
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The Styles Cancel

Anthony Boydell
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Well that's about it for my (as Tony) relationship with the UK Games Expo. They did entirely what everyone else is doing in these troubled times and moved the event from end-of-May to end-of-August. Unfortunately, for me at least (and SSG mainly), the hotel won't re-book my place accordingly. That's unreasonable, you might say BUT I did book the rooms on the last day of the 2019 show with a 'no cancellation refund' policy.

From gallery of tonyboydell


"OMG Tony, why did you do that?!?!?!"

Because the scalping fuckers at the Ibis chain - advertising rooms 'from £99 per night' on the departure day in 2019 wanted to charge me £1200 for two rooms in 2020 with the cancellation option; instead, I plumped for the £850 option which came with the 'ha-ha! no get-outs!' clause: "Why not?", I thought; "If, for some reason, I can't go I could offer the room to someone who might need it instead!".

Naturally, that was back in the halcyon, optimistic, pre-Brexit (when there was still hope), pre-Boris Johnson, pre-failed-impeachment, pre-Coronavirus maelstrom days.

I tried, of course, to appeal to the hotel's better nature: I didn't want a refund, I just wanted to move the booking to August...of course, anyone who thinks it will go ahead in August will have jumped on-line to secure the first places. They won't have been cheap but the scraps that are left will be even less so...unless you fancy taking a punt on a 'no cancellation' option?

I can hardly blame all of this on the UKGE, though, can I?

Can't I?

Well, they've sat happily by and watched the Hilton Metropol hike its prices year-on-year, lost/given up the option for Exhibitors to get some kind of discount (we used to get one in the early days) and, generally, sat back with the air of 'not our problem, mate'. The one year we couldn't stay at the Hilton (after doing so every time before) was because they were sold out to punters first - no block set aside for those of us who were still 'taking down and loading the vans'; we ended up in the Premier Inn - a mile away across an unlit expanse of car parks - and paid the same amount. The accommodation arrangements are, for exhibitors, a fucking joke; to be frank, if I wasn't an exhibitor then there's nothing about the UKGE that makes it worth me paying that much of my own money for now. Not a thing.

I'd rather save my cash for Leiriacon (now properly cancelled) - which costs less for everything (flights, parking, car hire, fuel, tolls, hotel & food) than just three nights (all meals are extra) at the bloody Ibis Styles - AND, of course, Essen Spiel.

We had a good run, the UKGE and me, but we've gone from excited co-conspirators in a noble evangelising project to being an income line in their booking spreadsheet with no strings attached. I quite liked those strings, in the old days; they meant we all felt connected.

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Tue Mar 17, 2020 10:39 pm
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A True And Proper Record

Anthony Boydell
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My friend told me that it was a lot cheaper to go to the UK Games Expo if I volunteered; he said that I would need a hi-visibility vest and my own lanyard but, in return, I’d get a free room and as many Keyforge decks as I could eat. The pre-show Stewards’ conference gave us a list of the type of things to watch out for; things that could prove dangerous to visitors and/or damaging to the organisers’ reputation eg. offensive roleplaying scenarios, public displays of enjoyment and/or refusing to pay £4 for a bottle of water. I was assigned to Hall 2 where my responsibilities included kicking litter in to the corners, walking away from people in the middle of their questions and stopping stand staff from coming back in when they’d gone to the van to restock. My manager had to keep nipping off to hand in more pre-filled ‘Peoples’ Vote’ slips, so it was up to me to slow down the queues for coffee by ordering 20 Turmeric lattes at a time and then paying with a card that kept being refused; someone tutted so hard they lost a front tooth. On Friday, I was allowed to close off the Bring-and-Buy saying that there was a Suspect Package: we destroyed eight copies of Subdivision and a mint Gloomhaven that afternoon; my manager laughed so hard as he was doing it that he needed a Man Nappy. There was a football match on the Saturday evening, so my job was to send all the board gamers away from the Bar area saying “It’s reserved for the Football fans, I’m afraid.” and also send all the Football fans away saying “It’s reserved for the Board Gamers, sorry.”. We had the whole place to ourselves for two hours; there was a smashing view of the car park from the leather sofas. I was allowed to take time off for a couple of the Podcast records over the weekend, so took my Seat Riser and my Cosplay ‘Cat In The Hat’ hat to the Toute Suite in time for Sit The Fuck Down and Shut The Fuck Up!, Vascillating with Vasel, The Dice Shower and No Penis Included. The Free Play area was open 24 hours, so I was sent in to the Game Library to alternately hide the most popular checkout items under the desk; our new IT guy had rewritten the code to show everything was being checked-in between 5 and 50 minutes late, regardless – at 50p a pop for fines, we had enough for half a pint of the Artisan Beer, between us, by 0100HRS. I was very, very tired on the Sunday - irritable and drifting off constantly - so they put me on the UKGE Merch stand where I could have a nap whenever I wanted; someone blogged that it was the longest queue for tee-shirts that they’d ever seen – my manager was on cigarette burn-hole/mislabel the sizes duty for a bit, which was nice. Overall it was a very enjoyable weekend.
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Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:15 am
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And now for something completely different...

Anthony Boydell
United Kingdom
Newent. Glos
Unspecified
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Every homo sapiens needs an outbuilding within the curtelage of their property
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Welcome...to my Shed!
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Microbadge: I love Europe!Microbadge: 5 Games for Doomsday fanMicrobadge: Talk Talk fanMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level VI -  Is six any more shiny? ... Well, it's one shinier isn't it? ... Okay, why don't you just make five a bit more shiny and then that would be the most shiny? ... Because these go to six.Microbadge: Iain Banks fan
From gallery of tonyboydell

Coming soon (Winter, 2019)
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Sat Jun 8, 2019 6:50 am
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