We begin with the UK Games Expo which took place at the NEC in Birmingham back in June.
It's always a risk when you take kids to things. You never know whether they're going to enjoy themselves or stomp their feet and demand to go home after half an hour. Tickets for days out are, as a rule, not cheap and as a family you can easily spend 100 quid just getting inside somewhere before adding on food, travel expenses etc.
It helps a lot with the decision-making if kids go free. Which they did to the Expo. Hurrah!
I understand that in the past the event was in nearby Hilton, but this year things expanded way beyond the confines of that building (at least until 5pm each day), with much taking place in the neighbouring NEC.
So what goes on at a games expo? Well, imagine a giant hall full of a mix of stalls selling a bunch of table top games and areas where you could test out new games before purchasing, plus a little cosplay area at the back because cosplay is everywhere these days.
My kids, aged 5-9, had a fantastic time. Free from the draws of electronic gaming, the kids simply spent the whole time there playing a variety of board games. They did manage to mildly upset a few of the vendors as it seems Expo etiquette is that you only have a game demoed once and then leave, even if no one else is waiting to play, but the kids didn't notice the Looks and wanted to play again. Note to vendors: I'm not going to buy your game, no matter how good it is, if you're mean to the people who want to play it.
What was really great was that there was a dedicated area for children. Amongst a bunch of tables with various games that you could simply sit and play, there was also a place where Expo volunteers were running 3 different role playing games. My eldest, having never adventured through a dungeon or battled a dragon before, was a little hesitant when the kindly man asked if he wanted to sign up. I also wondered whether he had the attention span to remain playing for the whole hour, but after the first game he was hooked and quickly signed up for the others. My 7yo was equally addicted and this was before he found out that you could earn badges for playing. A complete set was a must!
After completing their role-playing quests, my boys were then the gaming mindset and they then wandered off 'on their own' (with me overlooking from a few yards back) to play other games around the room. This kept them entertained for hours, which was great...apart from all the 'can we buy this game?' and the constant trips to the cash machine (I'm easily persuaded to buy cool table top games!)
My 5 year old daughter wasn't quite as obsessed. She did play quite a few games, but the day was a little too long for her. When it became a bit much she enjoyed sitting on the top deck of the bus that was parked in the middle of the hall and watching the people below.
If you're looking for a good family day out next June, I would heartily recommend the 2017 event. It'll be great fun!