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As an introvert I’m constantly worrying about the potential pitfalls of interacting with other human beings at conventions. What if I say the wrong thing? Am I out of my depth with geek trivia? What if I bump into another Black Widow cosplayer? Seriously, I spent time and money on that costume – I deserve to be the only one, dammit. My biggest anxiety about attending the UK’s largest Hobby Games Convention, UK Games Expo, trumped all of the above: how quickly will they recognise that I’m not one of them? 



I’ll explain. When it comes to LARP, RPG and tabletop board games in general, I’m a noob. I tend to get confused by complex rules and I’m not a competitive person by nature. I’d rather let the angry players get what they want than risk getting shouted at over poor decision-making, like forgetting where I’m allowed to put settlements in Catan


However, in order to grow as a person one must push their comfort bubble every now and then. This is the essence of Coaching for Geeks after all!



With that in mind I put aside my inexperience and fear of failure and found myself staring wide-eyed into Hall One of the Birmingham NEC. I grasped my Press Pass like a talisman (was that a deliberate boardgame reference? – Robin) and took a tentative step forward.


Day One of the UK Games Expo 2018 had begun.

The staff, no doubt sensing a newbie in their midst, thrust a helpful brochure and map into my hands. Their beaming faces gave me confidence; perhaps I wasn’t the only one to look a little out of my depth. I decided to head left with the intention of walking around in a circle, just browsing: I wanted to get my bearings as interaction was not on my agenda at this point in time.


Mini Gangs: Gateway boardgame at UK Games Expo

 Mini Gangs: Gateway

This changed when I happened to give a nervous smile to a gentleman from Ramshackle Games. He leapt forwards, asked me how I was and suddenly I found myself being coaxed towards his group of miniatures battling in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I was about to play Mini Gangs: Gateway.

He asked me how familiar I was with tabletop gaming and I blushed, knowing that I would have to confess that I was – gasp – an amateur. I shouldn’t have fretted. He helpfully produced a beautifully illustrated instruction leaflet and proceeded to talk me through every step of the gameplay. As the battle progressed I relaxed and felt comfortable enough to ask questions about the game. I ended up winning (it was less beginner’s luck and more hand-holding from my host – this was a game designed for kids!) and departed the stand eager to play something else. My confidence was growing.


I decided then and there to stop over-thinking and simply give it a go.

Syrinscape audition UK Games Expo

Photo: Helen Pain. Syrinscape


During Day One I recorded my voice for the sound design app producers, Syrinscape; learnt about using electronic devices to play RPG from the guys at Ultimate Games Master; took part in a seminar for Deathtrap Dungeon, read by none other than its creator, Ian Livingstone and played by John Roberston, host of The Dark Room as well as surviving the heat of the non-air-conditioned room (I didn’t and had to leave! – Robin).


Later I played my first tabletop roleplaying game with Tales From The Loop, going back to the Summer of ’84 and battling mechanical butterflies in a military facility (where our team of unlikely teenage heroes burnt down a barn) for a full three hours. By ten pm I was exhausted but elated.

Telling Tales.. from the Loop




It was decided that Day Two would be mainly about watching the live entertainment events, given that this was the busiest day of the Expo. Whilst Robin and Azzy went to Viking village for their two-hour LARP I headed for the more serene Hilton Metropole to watch the first of five shows on my schedule.

Audience participation was actively encouraged during all the live events I attended. I could muster the chanting and cheering during The Dark Room and Live RPG, yet when the hosts asked volunteers I remained mute. At first I blamed myself for being timid and unadventurous until I realised that I had already given my comfort bubble a huge push without realising it. During The Dark Room I sat next to a man in a blue-checked shirt who was also by himself and who recognised me as we waited in line for Live RPG. We struck up a conversation. He was a noob like me, watching all the shows to report back to his wife who couldn’t attend the Expo. My heart melted. We sat together during Live RPG and chatted afterwards. My objective to interact had been achieved; anything else was now a bonus. 


With some free time before the evening shows I met up with Robin and Azzy and we decided to make use of the Open Gaming area in the Hilton. Now the pressure was on. It was one thing to play a game with its creator and have my hand held throughout – this time I would be learning a new game with experienced players. Sweat pricked my upper lip. Would I make a complete fool of myself?

Deep Sea Adventure

A small blue box with German writing and a picture of a submarine upon it was produced, and we took turns diving for treasure with a shared air tank. Deep Sea Adventure was wholly new to me and much to my delight, Robin was a generous teacher and I managed to win again. Was this truly beginner’s luck, or a sign that I was becoming a competent player? Either way I was chuffed, my self-assurance increasing even more.

So much so that after watching Jollyboat, a pirate themed musical comedy double act and the final show of the evening, I felt confident enough to meet the stars and have my photo taken with them. >>> Bonus objective achieved!

Jolly Boat pirate UK Games Expo

Photo: Helen Pain




Finally it was Day Three and my last opportunity to metaphorically press my hands against the globule of self-security. I played Big Trouble in Little China, based on the film of the same name, and the latest version of Catan with Azzy (I’m happy to report there was no angry shouting during this game).  

Press Helen Pain Coaching for Geeks

Photo: Helen Pain

I also saw a sign that offered to show gamers a demonstration of a new product from Inside3 known as the Blind Maze. Feeling buoyed, Robin and I approached the game distributor who handed us a small blue cube with a silver ball inside. The object was to tilt the cube to move the ball through a maze concealed by the cube. Despite my reservations I managed to solve the puzzle fairly quickly.


As I turned to leave the Inside3 stand, our host drew my attention to a book he was trying to promote. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw what it was about: creating giant bubbles. A clear sign that giving it a go was the right thing to do. Spooky huh?


Having experienced the games expo I can safely say that I enjoyed it enormously. I can’t promise that I’ll volunteer to be a Dungeon Master anytime soon but it has made me curious about trying games I would normally avoid, and having the courage to speak up to better understand the rules. I feel more confident now about playing games in large groups and will even go so far as to seek out gaming communities in Swindon. Thanks, UK Games Expo!


Helen Pain – giving it a go and winning, at UK Games Expo!


Check out our Ultimate Convention Survival Guide for all con and expo attendees

Like a Virgin: Bring out your inner weirdo at your first convention!

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Helen Pain
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