TableTop Gaming Live at Alexandra Palace (September, 2019)
My first experience of a gaming convention last year was, I have to admit, a baptism of fire. I was overwhelmed at times by the amounts of fans jostling for position around the exhibition hall stands, all chatting animatedly about their purchases and tournaments schedules, and I mentally prepared myself to have a similar experience at Tabletop Gaming Live. With backpack full of bottled water and paracetamol, I journeyed to Muswell Hill by bus (and on foot when I got off at the bottom of the hill instead of the top – that was a long walk!) to one of the most beautiful entertainment venues in London: Alexandra Palace.
The Venue: Alexandra Palace, London
Since it was built in the late 1800s, Alexandra Palace has been a centre for entertainment in all forms and this weekend saw it play host to the second year of the Tabletop Gaming Live convention. After climbing the hill for what seemed like hours but was only about ten minutes, I arrived at Ally Pally to find signs for the car parking but not for the event. Perhaps the organisers were relying on those who attended last year to know where they were going within the building, or perhaps they didn’t factor for dummies like me getting off at the wrong bus stop. Either way, it took me a while to walk around to what I thought was the correct entrance to get my pass.
I wandered along the corridor completely alone, wondering where the queues were. Granted I’d arrived later in the day than everyone else, but the lack of bodies was unnerving. I was greeted by friend members of staff who issued my pass with ease and handed me a glossy A4 programme. The programme boasted of having more games, more tournaments and more reasons to get involved than the previous year. With no basis for comparison I was happy to stroll inside the event hall and be wowed. And boy was I wowed.
Unlike the UK Games Expo where you couldn’t move for people and shopping bags, I could have stretched out my arms either side of me and still have enough room to walk around the stands. There were thousands of attendees but the sheer size of the hall made it seem as though only a few hundred had shown up. The daylight streaming through the beautiful circular window at one end of the hall made everything airy and bright. A mellow rumble of conversation flowed throughout the gigantic room, making the atmosphere was so calm the occupants could have been asleep at their stands.
Transported Through Tabletop Gaming Live
The first hall had plenty of games companies offering demonstrations, nearly all of which were full. I tried out the Tour De France inspired Flamme Rouge from Zatu Games and Days of Wonder’s Ticket to Ride: London, but was otherwise content to watch others playing. Ticket to Ride: London in particular was fun to try as it is designed to be completed in less than 15 minutes, and I also thought it was funny to play something related to my transport faux pas earlier in the day. (transport theme – spotted. you could even say… train-spotted. I’ll get my coat. – Ed)
One thing that needed to be clearer concerned the numbering of the exhibition stands. The featured games in the free programme had a link that read ‘see us at stand…’ followed by the letter and number of the stand. However, when browsing around the hall I automatically looked to the concrete floor for the stand number and found nothing. After a few loops of the hall, I spotted some chalk number sketched onto the concrete at one stand, and then a few more hidden underneath tables and tablecloths. Luckily for me I was drifting and not searching for anything specific, but I imagine this would be frustrating for a visitor would was.
Ridiculously Good Quizzes And Tech
The tournaments, talks and workshops were housed in a smaller hall adjacent to the main one. Although it was signposted I felt as though this section could have been overlooked due to the fact it felt tucked away to the side, yet this for me was the beating heart of the convention because so much was happening. There were plenty of play areas to house the huge numbers of gamers competing, and their enthusiasm gave off a vibrant, infectious buzz that didn’t impede on the talks that were taking place alongside them (I attended a talk about RPG for beginners and heard every word thanks to their excellent visual and audio aids).
Finally, at 4pm that afternoon, I had to do some real work. Coaching For Geeks founder Robin Bates hosted ‘The Ridiculous Tabletop Pub Quiz’ and I was tasked as official quiz marker alongside fellow CfG member Liam Purkiss. Like the old fashioned pub quiz down the local, this pitted geeks against geeks for prizes, generously donated by games publishers such as Grant Howitt, Themeborne Games, Big Potato Games, Fog of Love and Honeybadger Games.
A late start to the quiz meant Robin editing out some of the rounds he had prepared (and skipping some of the slides on his carefully prepared visual presentation), however, there was still plenty of variety in the form of picture rounds, use of joker cards and impersonations. Catherine Morgan from Honeybadger Games judged the ‘who did the best meeple impression’ round, gifting prizes of Food Pawn sweets to the top three winners. I’ve never seen so many quiz contestants happy to meeple for treats!
Lemons Were Jousted
My personal highlight, apart from scrambling onto tables or chairs when teams played their ‘the floor is lava’ joker card, was the lemon jousting. For those of you who don’t know what that entails (and believe me, I didn’t – you should have seen the look on Robin’s face when he realised I had no idea what he was asking me to demonstrate), each jouster is given two wooden spoons and places a lemon on one of them. The aim is to knock the lemon off your opponent’s wooden spoon while preventing your lemon from falling off the other spoon. It is an addictive mini game that broke the usual quiz mould, got a lot of laughter and helped to break the ice among the participants.
Chilled And Iconic – Tabletop Gaming Live
For the less experienced gamers and those who avoid enormous crowds, Tabletop Gaming Live is a gentle introduction to all that is on offer, allowing people to take their time and browse in a relaxed environment. Seasoned gaming veterans might find identifying the stands a little irritating and crave more RPG games, but could be encouraged to try a workshop or a talk. A chilled weekend playing games inside an iconic setting – what more could you want?