By Jonathan Aird
Tabletop Gaming Live is an oddity in the UK convention calendar – a two-day show run at a prestige venue, Alexandra Palace in London. It’s also quite a new addition to the list of annual events we enjoy as this was only the second year it has run. Unlike American multi-day conventions, this is very much Two Days of activities – Tabletop Gaming Live (TGL) opens at 10AM and closes its doors at 5PM – there are no organised evening activities. I’d originally planned to attend both days, but we all know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men – as it was, I was only able to make it on Sunday 29th September.
Having made the steep climb up the hill from Alexandra Palace rail station to Alexandra Palace itself, one is informed that a shuttle bus service runs to and from the station at regular intervals – worth knowing!
TGL isn’t a cheap event – entrance on the day was £17, although it was slightly cheaper booking in advance or getting a two-day event ticket. Quite surprisingly, there was, literally, no queue to get in. Salute this is not! The venue itself is a light and airy exhibition area well-staffed and with several (rather pricey) food and drink outlets in the hall itself – all very convenient. As the name suggests, TGL is very focused on all forms of gaming and the live part is very much in evidence – as well as organised demonstration and participation game areas there were also tournament tables for what looked to be various Collectible Card Games and also break-out spaces for ad-hoc gaming. Wargaming made up a fair portion of what was on offer with the South London Warlords offering their Space 1999 inspired participation game, which had been too packed out to really see at Salute earlier in the year. The one thing that TGL does not have is crowds, there were a goodly number of people in the hall but there was never what could remotely be called a crush.
As well as traders and games to play, the show also features guest speakers – discussing aspects of game design. The best known of these was probably Steve Jackson talking about the early days of Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook series both of which he pioneered with Ian Livingstone – this, unfortunately for me, had been on Saturday. I did, however, get in a number of games. Mythic Games had several try-out tables for Joan of Arc, with a short battle of Hundred Years War troops against the mythical creatures that were believed in at the time which was great fun and really beautiful to look at. The game can also be played as just historical forces if preferred, but it does look great with huge Dragons and Griffons in the mix. It’s a boardgame with figures, and plays very nicely. As well as a basic starter set, there are any number of add-ons, including a few ones that had just been added for the games’ relaunch on Kickstarter. It would be possible to pick-up everything that currently exist for the game for a mere £1,000 or so (including hefty shipping costs!). I didn’t, but goodness it was tempting – it was very attractive, and the 15mm scale plastic figures and scenery are exquisite.
My next port of call was to see a game of England Invaded 1910 – based on the novel by William Le Queux. This was at the other end of the cost scale, using adapted Bloody Picnic WWI rules and a mix of mostly Airfix and HaT figures. It looked great and must have cost easily £50 to create. And that’s the beauty of wargaming – both extremes of start-up cost were games that were attractive, in their own ways.
Other games that were just strolled up to and played were the new edition of X-Wing, the Star Wars version of Wings of War, which played very nicely. The new version of Dystopian Wars gave the opportunity to pit an Italian fleet of steampunk Gothic battleships against a slower but sturdier British fleet. Vim, flair and a good handful of luck favoured the Italians! The last game of the day was a sign-up session for a Call of Cthulhu role-playing game scenario – in which the investigators had little clue throughout as to what was going on but still managed to almost all die or go insane from the horrors that they observed. Great fun, and not something one would normally have time to get involved in at a regular wargaming show – but TGL is very much that kind of a show.
As to traders – there were plenty of these in attendance, mostly selling board and card games but there were some wargaming traders as well – including big names such as Warlord Games and MDF scenery sellers such as TTCombat. I picked up a few resin boats from Irongate Scenery and had a nice long chat with Tyr Terrain who had some lovely laser cut MDF scenery on offer but sadly these distinctive Elven dwellings were only display copies for TGL – but I’ll be looking out for these later!
I also purchased a copy of the solo/collaborative card driven adventure Escape the Dark Castle. This looks somewhat like a Fighting Fantasy Gamebook in both the artwork and that a series of programmed encounters must be worked through as the players try to escape from a Dungeon, but the game mechanics of special dice for deciding both combat and monster abilities each time encountered keeps the unpredictability of the escape going. It takes about 30 minutes to play so is good for filling those odd moments. My last bit of loot for the day was a surprise – the show is sponsored by Tabletop Gaming magazine along with its sister publication Miniature Wargames and they had a stall near the entrance to the hall from which they had been handing out information and selling subscriptions all day. At the end of the day, they were perfectly positioned to thrust complimentary copies of both magazines into the hands of all who left the show in the last ten minutes or so. This was a nice bonus as they were the latest issues and I had yet to purchase either! The reader with an eye for detail (and a good memory) will notice that I managed to get a lot more at this less crowded convention than I had at Salute – there must be a reason for that!
TGL is a very nice show for the gamer who wants to pick up a few bits and bobs – or a very big several hundred pounds boardgame – but who really wants to be able to get some real gaming in as well. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely try to make at least one day next year. It’s a show that deserves to succeed.