Date: 4th & 5th May, 2019
Location: Manchester Central, Windmill St, Manchester M2 3GX, UK

Welcome to our live coverage of this year’s Play Expo gaming and entertainment show, being held this year back in Manchester in the north of England.

Play Expo has moved around a few times during its relatively short life, starting at the Norbreck Castle hotel in Blackpool before moving to Event City in Manchester, only to return to Blackpool last year and then come back to Manchester for 2019.

The home this year is the former railway terminus now called Manchester Central, also known locally by its previous name of the G-Mex.

Manchester Central Convention Centre
Manchester Central Convention Centre

Manchester Central is one large hall with red brick walls and an impressive arched roof.

The main entrance
The main entrance
Inside Manchester Central Convention Centre
Inside Manchester Central Convention Centre

Although it is a large venue, the floor space doesn’t compare to that available at Event City in Manchester which was breathtakingly-vast. It is, however, a more modern facility in a more attractive location than the Norbreck Castle in Blackpool which, having experienced once, we would be happy never having to return to.

As in previous years, Play Expo is a mix of assorted gaming platforms and cultures, encompassing retro 8-bit consoles and computers, the latest PC gaming, game, sci-fi and fantasy artwork, board games, cosplay, arcade videos and, of course, pinballs.

Tickets for Play Expo could be purchased in advance through the show’s website or on the door. Adult tickets bought at the venue cost £20 per day, with under-16s paying £14. There was also a family ticket (2 adults and 2 kids) for £58, and weekend-long tickets for £34 (adult) and £24 (kids).

We arrived during the set-up on Friday evening to check on the progress ahead of the public opening on Saturday morning.

8-bit and console gaming
8-bit and console gaming
Classic 8-bit computer games running on assorted hardware platforms
Classic 8-bit computer games running on assorted hardware platforms
Much more modern computer games
Much more modern computer games
Arcade video games
Arcade video games
Sci-fi and fantasy artworks for sale
Sci-fi and fantasy artworks for sale

The pinball element is organised by the Northern Lights Pinball team who, along with several private collectors, have supplied many of the games, and co-opted other pinball groups and clubs to bring additional machines, amongst them Electric Circus in Birmingham and Flip Out London in Croydon.

The result is an eclectic mix of the most recent releases, modern classics, some electromechanical and early solid-state, and a number of themed groupings.

Dialed In! and Medieval Madness Remake head-up this line-up of pinballs
Dialed In! and Medieval Madness Remake head-up this line-up of pinballs
Iron Maiden, Batman 66 and JJP's Pirates of the Caribbean lead this row of machines
Iron Maiden, Batman 66 and JJP’s Pirates of the Caribbean lead this row of machines
Deadpool and The Munsters join The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Creature and Whirlwind!
Deadpool and The Munsters join The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Creature and Whirlwind!
Several Star Wars games
Several Star Wars games
Electromechanical Zaccaria games
Electromechanical Zaccaria games

More pinball machines were arriving on Friday evening and being readied for the public to play them when the show opened at 10am on Saturday morning.

Pinballs being set up for Play Expo 2019
Pinballs being set up for Play Expo 2019
Electrical testing of every machine is an important part of any show
Electrical testing of every machine is an important part of any show

The Northern Lights Pinball team don’t really hold tournaments, but they will be running a number of single-machine high score competitions across the weekend.

The competitions available when the show opens on Saturday
The competitions available when the show opens on Saturday

In addition, there will be a raffle or tombola to award prizes and help raise money for the Northern Light Pinball’s chosen charity for 2019, Mustard Tree, helping the homeless and those in poverty.

The tombola prize table
The tombola prize table
More tombola prizes
More tombola prizes

Before the Play Expo show opened at 10am on Saturday, a sizable crowd had gathered in the foyer of the Manchester Central centre.

The queue of visitors awaiting the show's opening
The queue of visitors awaiting the show’s opening

At 10am sharp, the visitors were allowed into the main hall.

The first guests into the show
The first guests into the show
The crowd surged down the central aisle looking for their favoured areas
The crowd surged down the central aisle looking for their favoured areas

The pinball zone was at the back of the hall, at the opposite end to the main entrance. Even so, it was only a matter of seconds before all the pinballs were in use.

The layout of the show hall
The layout of the show hall
The pinball zone very soon after the show opened
The pinball zone very soon after the show opened
The pinball zone
The pinball zone

There were 49 free play machines on the floor, plus another three used for competitions. The pinballs were:

Addams Family, The
Addams Family, The
Aerobatics
Austin Powers
Batman (Stern)
Batman (Stern)
Batman 66
Beat the Clock
Black Knight
Black Knight 2000
Bride of Pinbot, The Machine
Circus (Zaccaria)
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Deadpool
Demolition Man
Dialed In!
Dirty Harry
Doctor Who
Domino
Getaway: High Speed 2, The
High Speed
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure
Iron Maiden
Medieval Madness Remake
Metallica
Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man
Nautilus*
NBA Fastbreak
NBA Fastbreak
Phantom of the Opera, The
Queen’s Castle
Robocop
Robocop
Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends
Shadow, The
Ski Jump
Star Trek (Stern)
Star Wars (Data East)
Star Wars (Data East)
Star Wars (Sonic)
Star Wars Episode 1
Star Wars Trilogy
Star Wars Trilogy*
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Munsters
Twilight Zone
Whirlwind
Wizard!
X-Files, The

*indicates machine was broken or not playable when the list was made

Machines remained in use throughout the day
Machines remained in use throughout the day
Getting on any machine usually involved a short wait, unless you were lucky with your timing
Getting on any machine usually involved a short wait, unless you were lucky with your timing
Pinball Heaven brought some of the newest titles to the show
Pinball Heaven brought some of the newest titles to the show
New Stern Pinball games - Deadpool, Iron Maiden, Batman 66 and The Munsters
New Stern Pinball games – Deadpool, Iron Maiden, Batman 66 and The Munsters

The tombola also proved to be very popular, with tickets being sold almost continuously. Any ticket number ending in a 5, 7 or 0 won a prize of some kind. Tickets cost £1 ($1.25, €1.15) for three, £5 for 18 or £10 for 40.

Buying tickets for the tombola
Buying tickets and winning prizes at the tombola

Meanwhile, the three high score competitions were running at the other end of the pinball zone.

The tree high score competitions were popular too
The tree high score competitions were popular too

There was a junior competition which was free to enter and was played on Star Wars, an EM competition held on a Williams Heat Wave which gave two entries for £1, and a modern competition on Creature from the Black Lagoon which cost £1 per entry.

David records another high score on the white board
David records another high score on the white board

By the close of the show at 6pm, Andrew Foster’s 1.3bn on Creature looked like it would be the top score of the day.

Elsewhere in the hall, there were events running throughout the day.

Presentations on the main stage for both days
Presentations on the main stage for both days
Plenty of people wanted a selfie with Detective Pikachu
Plenty of people wanted a selfie with Detective Pikachu
In the retro games area you had your choice of titles and platforms
In the retro games area you had your choice of titles and platforms
Some slightly-less-retro gaming
Some slightly-less-retro gaming
The modern games arena was especially busy
The modern games arena was especially busy

For the dedicated arcade games player, there were plenty of stand-up and sit-down cabinets to enjoy.

The arcade cabinets were as busy as the pinballs
The arcade cabinets were as busy as the pinballs
All the classic titles were there
All the classic titles were there
Including several sit-down racers and shooters
Including several sit-down racers and shooters

Many companies were at Play Expo to promote their games or retro bundles, along with a number of hopeful individuals looking for their big break in the business.

Promoting their game package to the public
Promoting their game package to the public
Showing their new Pacer game
Showing their new Pacer game
Another new game concept
Another new game concept
More games aimed at younger players
More games aimed at younger players

At the front of the hall was the streaming stage, where demonstrations, presentations and interviews were hosted and streamed online.

The streaming stage
The streaming stage
The streaming stage schedule of events
The streaming stage schedule of events

The adjacent area was filled with assorted vendors.

The Sony PS4 zone
The Sony PS4 zone
Several rows of booths provided plenty of opportunities to spend your real-world treasure
Several rows of booths provided plenty of opportunities to spend your real-world treasure
There were lots of games for sale...
There were lots of games for sale…
...Lots...
…Lots…
Really, lots
Really, lots
But also plenty of other game paraphernalia
But also plenty of other game paraphernalia
Apart from computer, video and pinballs, there were also board and card games set up to play
Apart from computer, video and pinballs, there were also board and card games set up to play
There was also the current craze for escape rooms, as if finding your way out of Manchester wasn't difficult enough
There was also the current craze for escape rooms, as if finding your way out of Manchester wasn’t difficult enough

When all the excitement had taken its toll, there were multiple food vendors in the adjacent hall to provide refreshment.

Get yourself a hot dog
Get yourself a hot dog
Grilled cheese sandwiches available here
Grilled cheese sandwiches available here
The pizza stand was very popular
The pizza stand was very popular
Drinks were available from various stands
Drinks were available from various stands
The queue for coffee was an always-present feature of the food hall
The queue for coffee was an always-present feature of the food hall
Alternatively, there were 'adult beverages' available at the bar
Alternatively, there were ‘adult beverages’ available at the bar

Even though it was lunchtime, there was no lull back in the pinball zone.

Still busy in the pinball zone
Still busy in the pinball zone

Sunday was certainly a quieter day at Play Expo, but that’s not to say all the pinball machines weren’t busy all day. As with the rest of the games at the show, be they board games, videos, consoles or 8-bits, the games were all free to play once entry had been purchased.

Sunday morning just after opening time
Sunday morning just after opening time
All the machines were being played again
All the machines were being played again
Although busy, a short wait would usually get you on your chosen machine
Although busy, a short wait would usually get you on your chosen machine

A new day of high score competitions began, with players having a second bite at winning cash prizes.

The high score competitions began again on Sunday morning
The high score competitions began again on Sunday morning

We took the opportunity of fewer players and buyers to make our Twenty-Three Minute Tour video walk around the show. Here it is…

With the video shot, a few quick games played and lunchtime looming, we headed for Manchester Picadilly train station and the journey back home.

Play Expo will be back...
Play Expo will be back…

Using Manchester Central as a venue had both its advantages and disadvantages. The facilities are good, with a single open, high-roofed hall meaning noise and temperatures were kept under control. The proximity to hundreds to shops, restaurants, bars and hotels also made it the ideal location.

The downside was the reduced floor space, which saw the usual 100+ pinballs cut down to 52, while the cost of entry to the show reflected the undoubtedly more expensive venue hire, with the standard adult day entry rising 25% from £16 to £20 and a family ticket going up 38% from £42 to £58.

For pinball fans, Play Expo is a chance to play many of the latest titles which may not be available locally, along with some older classics and a few unusual games. Really though, the pinball element is more about either reminding the general public how much fun pinball can be, or introducing the next generation of players to the physical game.

The way the machines were played almost continuously across the two days showed there is no shortage of enthusiasm for pinball around Manchester.

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