I have been going to game conventions since 2000, but it did not become a regular, annual, thing until 2004 when I made it to my first D&D Miniatures Championships. At first, since I was focused on CMGs and RPGs, I went to Gen Con every year, but with my entrance into the world of board games I visited the WBC and BGG.Con for the first time in 2009. Since then I’ve been back to BGG.Con every year, Gen Con once, and the WBC not at all. In 2012 I expect to visit three conventions, one of which is a new local convention and the other two of which are not. I do not find any of the possible out of town conventions to be a real financial burden, so deciding which one to go to really comes down to identifying which conventions offer me most of the sort of experience that I desire.
The first step in determining what convention you want to go to (assuming you aren’t overly restrained by financial considerations), is to put together a list of what, exactly, you want in your convention experience. My list follows:
1) The ability to meet up with gaming friends that I do not get to see regularly. Attending the WBC cold in ’09 was fun, as I met some new people that I enjoyed hanging out with, but it is even more fun to meet up with people you have met up with before and spending time hanging out and gaming with them.
2) Ease of travel. Since I am deep into Florida any convention I attend is most likely going to require me to fly. Since travel in general is not something I find to be pretty comfortable, I prefer to keep things as straightforward and easy as possible.
3) Easy access to good food. Burning yourself out at a convention is no good, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to fail to eat right. As a vegetarian, access to non-meat food items is a plus, and I would rather snack on tasty fruit then rely on the junk food that is usually much more easily available (though I do like a good cookie on occasion).
4) Ability to play my preferred style of games. Since I tend to almost exclusively prefer gamer’s games and more complicated card games, if I am going to spend the money to go to a convention those are the sort of games that I want to be playing. If a convention mostly has people playing the light flavor of the moment I am going to be much less interested.
5) The ability to play to new and hot games. I am one of the primary game buyers in my group, and it is unusual for me to be able to try a new game unless I buy it first. Being able to try out games that I am uncertain about at a convention first is a big plus, as it allows me to avoid the annoyance of having to resell them if they prove to be unsuitable after the first play. I also quite like being involved in the initial discussions about a game, so being able to try them early or when they are newly released is another big plus in my mind.
6) The ability to buy imported games. My FLGS is Coolstuff Games, which means that if a game is released domestically that I will have it quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately, they carry very few imports so if I want to acquire a game from farther afield I have to order them. Being able to play these games and then buy them right away, rather than having to wait and pay for shipping is very nice.
So with this in mind how do the three big board gaming conventions I’ve attended in the past, and others I've looked at, stack up?
I have attended BGG.Con every year since 2009, which should give you a good indication of how well it meets my criterion. While it failed #1 during the first year, since then I’ve made tons of friends on BoardGameGeek who I look forward to seeing each year, as well as new ones it is great to meet for the first time. It also fails on 3) because of how I generally prefer to optimize my gaming time. While the hotel restaurant is pretty good and they do supply a food bus, this just does not quite cut it, particularly when compared to the delightful opportunities available at other conventions. Beyond that it passes all of my other items on the list with flying colors, which makes it the obvious choice if I am only picking one convention per year.
Gen Con is more of a mixed bag. Lots of my old CMG buddies still attend this convention, but since I am no longer involved in that hobby we have much less to talk about. I have made some new board gaming friends, but they are fewer here then my other options. The board gaming at Gen Con also seems to be focused a lot more on types of gaming that I am less interested in these days, which reduces my options. It also doesn’t really have much in the way of imported games, as most of the shops there focus on domestic releases. On the plus side Gen Con easily wins the “Best Food” contest, as it takes place in downtown Indianapolis and there are a gigantic number of easily accessible culinary options. Additionally, there usually are at least a handful of newer games available here each year, so it does hit the “new and hot” button, even if it is not as expansive as the options at BGG.Con. Travelling to Indianapolis is also a breeze as there are plenty of direct flights from Orlando, and those that aren’t direct have only a single stop in Atlanta. So while some of the secondary aspects of Gen Con are good, I am not sure they are enough to make me want to go back any time in the near future. If I hear some of some positive developments, particularly in the ability to more effectively play games I particularly like, I might reconsider.
World Boardgaming Championship
The World Board Gaming Championship’s biggest downside is that it is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While this is probably great for people who are in driving distance, as the location is inexpensive and has something vaguely resembling a theme park nearby. For those of who do not live in driving distance, getting to the convention is much more difficult. Flights have to go into Baltimore and Philadelphia and from their either take a small, single engine plane (my choice in 2009) or a train. This is a bit of a step up over the easy one or two leg flights required to get me to Gen Con or BGG.Con, and is the primary reason I did not bother to go back in 2010 or 2011. Additionally, because of its location there is very little in the way of good eating options in the area, and the one year I attended I found the hotel food less than optimal. Additionally, the shopping options are also subpar, with very little in the way of hot new games or imported delights. It makes up for all of the downsides by having an amazing variety of gaming, ranging from a great open gaming area to more organized board gaming events then you can find at any other convention that I know of. While I think BGG.Con has slightly better open gaming, the opportunity to compete in tournaments more than makes up for that, and makes the convention a distinct enough experience that it is probably worth attending in addition to BGG.Con. I just wish it was in a better location.
I have not been to Essen but the logistics and advantage/disadvantages of such a trip are things I have considered. On the plus side Essen is pretty much the epicenter of being able to acquire hot new games. I don’t know much about the local eating establishments but from everything I’ve seen from reports they are not bad, and are easily on the level of those found at BGG.Con, and perhaps even rival those of Gen Con. It would also be nice to attend and meet some of the acquaintances I have made on BGG who live over in Europe. On the downside ease (and cost) of travel is pretty high. It is probably less expensive for me to simply buy all of the games that I want and take a risk that I am not going to like them then it would be to travel for the convention. Additionally, while I do like having games available to buy, conventions are even more focused on wall-to-wall gaming for me, and it seems that in Essen they are definitely a secondary focus. Gen Con, which is also very vendor-focused, at least has areas set aside for organized and non-organized gaming. Essen does not even have that. So at this point in time, Essen is not worth it to me.
Florida has a pretty drab set of conventions if you are into board games. Most of the conventions focused on other things have board games shoehorned on, but for the most part those are only worth attending if you are interested in the primary item, which I am not. Until now the exception to this rule has been Mike’s Mini Meets.
While Mike’s Mini Meets are not conventions in the normal sense, I consider them roughly equivalent. Mike has 30-60 people over to his house once or twice a year for a three day weekend of wall-to-wall board gaming. I typically only drive up for Saturday, but it is still something I look forward to whenever one is coming up.
So it seems that with Tom Vasel’s arrival in Florida he has decided to be involved in the organization of a Florida-based board gaming convention: http://boardgaming.info/convention/index.php. For the most part I am pretty excited about this. While on one hand I am pretty sure there won’t be any new or imported games to check out, the sheer ease of being able to drive to the convention and home at night with ease more than makes up for that. I also can easily get access to food thanks to being able to eat at home before and after I get back and if I get hungry during the day, there is a delightful variety of restaurants in the area that can take care of my lunch needs. The big question is how much I will be able to play my favorite types of games. If it turns out it is essentially as much as I would normally, but I do it in a concentrated dose then I expect I will continue to attend this convention for years to come. If not? This may be my first and last year.
What are your favorite conventions? What are the things that you look for in any convention you attend?
Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games
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