Geek of Honor: My BGG.CON Impressions
Jason Matthews
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This last weekend I had the pleasure to be the beneficiary of Aldie and Derk's hospitality at Board Game Geek Con. I am kind of a convention junkie. I've been to Essen, Origins, Gencon, WBC, the Gathering, Gulf Games and a variety of other conventions big and small. But this was my first time at Board Game Geek Con, and come to think of it, my first time in Texas for anything remotely resembling pleasure.

I had a terrific time. I may sneek in some of the games played, but the list is really about my general impressions of the convention, and why I think its something more gamers ought to check out.
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1. Board Game: Airlines [Average Rating:4.60 Overall Rank:15063]
Jason Matthews
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I live in the suburbs of Washington DC, BGG.Con is in Dallas, Texas. It may be technically feasible to drive there, but it would have certainly dimminished the charm of the trip. I flew into DFW from Washington Reagan on American Airlines. It was the first time I had ever been to Dallas without adult supervision. So, it was my first real exposure to this ginormous complex they call an airport. The car rental is "in the airport" and literally five miles away from my terminal. I don't know if everything is bigger in Texas, but the damn airports surely are.
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2. Board Game: Hotel Tycoon [Average Rating:5.44 Overall Rank:14997]
Jason Matthews
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So, after grabbing my rental car (super cheap $12 a day), I made my way over to the hotel. You wouldn't necessarily need to rent a car at this convention, but at that price it was a nice luxury for getting away for food.

Anyway, the convention hotel is the Westin and is about a 10 minute drive from the airport. As I mentioned earlier, I've been to a lot of conventions, this one gets the gold star for the nicest hotel. My room was great, the staff were terrific (turn down your bed, get a chocolate -- the whole nine yards), and the convention rates were very reasonable. I have certainly paid more for less.

Additionally, at this stage, the convention now assumes all of the meeting space at the hotel, so BGG.Con was a large presence. As a result, they had meal service by the main ballrooms for breakfast and lunch. They also have a nice little coffee/snack bar near the entrance of the hotel. And the hotel restaurant was also very good. A Denny's also glows brightly across the street, beckoning the late night gamer. So, as I say, if you are not too particular, you could camp yourself at the hotel and never leave. I have the impression that's what many attendees did.
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3. Board Game: The Big One [Average Rating:5.33 Unranked]
Jason Matthews
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My first impression when walking through the door of the main convention hall was WOW! This is a big convention! They had over 700 people there, and they were all playing the games I want to play. I've been to other, larger conventions -- Origins, GENCON even WBC, but I've never seen such a large conglomeration of boardgamers all just playing boardgames. Its kind of like what most of us imagine heaven will be like (except maybe the other gamers will also be bikini models).
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4. Board Game: Prize Property [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:12703]
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Unlike other "open gaming" cons -- conventions where the emphasis is on open gaming, rather than scheduled events and tournaments -- BGG has no prize table. Instead, you get a "prize" from the convention just for showing up. Of course, the trick is, you need to be there when the con opens up. People were nabbing some amazing stuff. In addition to donations from major publishers, it seems that Derk and Aldie sprinkled the selection with new releases from Essen. Several people were able to grab copies of 2 de Mayo from the prize table! A great little prize for a convention freebie.

Of course, I got there considerably after the doors had opened. So, I acquired a new copy of AH's Facts In Five. I think its a good game, and makes a nice gift game for friends and family.

It was also at this stage that you put tickets into boxes for the Thoughthammer sponsored Midnight Madness -- these were piles of cool new Essen releases. I put my ticket in the wargame box in hopes of winning Conflict of Heroes. Sadly, the drawing was not rigged. I still do not own Conflict of Heroes. These things are always so much easier at the conventions in Tijuana.
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5. Board Game: Funny Friends [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1627]
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Naturally enough, the first thing I do at a convention is make a quick circle to look around for familiar faces. While I did know plenty of folks, there were more fresh faces than jaded veterans. With a crowd of 700, I guess that's inevitable. Two of the DC Gamers (my local crew) had made the trek out as well. I bumped into them relatively quickly. Though they are two of my club favorities, I determined to meet new folks and play with them. For the most part, that was a success.

Anyway, to the rest of the crew of friends and familiars, it was great seeing you again, and I look forward to gaming with you again soon. Maybe Gulf Games?
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6. Board Game: California [Average Rating:6.26 Overall Rank:2457]
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One of the interesting things things about the crowd that became evident over time was the number of Californians. This was nice for me, first of all because it is my home state -- and I am representin'. Secondly, because most of the Californians don't make it all the way to East Coast events and vice versa. So, I was happy for the chance to put names to faces with "online friends", that I had never had a chance to meet. It was also a nice excuse for a reunion for some of the West Coasties that I did know.

Also widely in evidence were the Pacific Northwest crowd. Of course, with Funagain, Wizkids, Wizards of the Coast and Columbia Games all located in that neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest has been a hotbed of gaming for several years. So, it was not too surprising to see a core of their die hards make the long trek south.

Naturally, there were also a good number of Texans; but despite being the host state, not an overwhelming number. In general, there was a very strong sense of diversity to the crowd. More so than almost any other gaming even that I have been to, which generally has a more regional draw.
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7. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:261]
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Another element of the convention that surprised me were the vendors. Asmodee, Mayfair, Z-Man, R&R Games, Rio Grande, APE Games, Your Move Games, and FRED were all there (I might have missed a couple, apologies in advance). There were also some smaller online retailers, the guy who makes those beautiful dice towers and a couple of self-published game start-ups. All-in-all there was a lot on offer. All of the publishers were also demoing their new games, so it was a great venue for trying before buying, or seeing the new Essen releases.

Much to my regret, I did not spend as much time as I would like learning games of here -- it is one of my favorite con activities. But, I am sure I will catch up playing by putting in ridiculously large orders. So, the trapped worked.
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8. Board Game: Miscellaneous Game Book [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:9310]
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After dropping my stuff in my room, and completing my circuit around the convention, I made my way back to the "Essen Showcase" room. This location would be abuzz with activity throughout the weekend. Basically, it was several tables all with hot new Essen releases on them and set out to play in perpetuity.

It was also a nice also a nice substitute for a con "mixer." Everyone in there was looking to play, and people were generous in suggesting that others join in. I got hooked into an early game of Chicago Express that way. The new production is beautiful by the way. It really aided the experience. I managed to live without Wabash Canonball, but I will definitely be adding Chicago Express to my collection.

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9. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:119]
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I finished my gaming evening that night with a game of Tichu with a group of friends. My partner and I were beaten senseless, but what the hell can you do when Thornquist calls Tichu every damn round? What's worse, he was right. I soothed my wounded pride with a trip to Steak and Shake, a culinary tour de force that I have missed since leaving the midwest. The chocolate malt and I picked up just where we left off.
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10. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2239]
Jason Matthews
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Friday was a lot of fun and my first real day at the convention. There were lots of interesting things going on, including a prototyping alley which encouraged designers and willing victims to show what they were up to.

I found a couple of groups of guinea pigs myself who wanted to give Founding Fathers a go. I got great feedback from all of these folks, and the experience confirmed my view of the importance of testing at conventions.

There is a bit of info on the game and some experience from the playtesters under Founding Fathers on the Geek:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/37358

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11. Board Game: Rock 'n' Roll Odyssey [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Jason Matthews
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After playing a variety of games -- mostly newish Essen stuff -- I wandered off to a good Cajun meal with a gaggle of old and new friends from the Pacific Northwest. The food was great but when one of our group asked about microbrews, the waitress looked at him as if he had just landed from the moon. Don't forget folks, Texas is home to a plethora of dry counties. That's why you find so many Texans in Louisiana.

Anyway, the odd highlight of the evening was wandering into the Rock Band room. This cave has become a bit of a DC Gamer mania thanks to one of our member's man cave and willingness to spend an untold fortune on equipment. But the con did him one better. Movie screen size Rock Band in an auditorium. I was invited to join in, but couldn't be disloyal to my band at home. With me, its still about the music.
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12. Board Game: The World's Greatest Game Show [Average Rating:5.80 Unranked]
Jason Matthews
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On Saturday, I had most of the day to do some more opening gaming and another demo of Founding Fathers. I also taught some folks to play Twilight Struggle.

The Golden Geeks were also announced. 1960 was barely edged out by Hannibal. I can't be too angry about that. If you have to lose, lose to greatness. Besides, Mark Simonitch did the graphics work on Twilight Struggle, so its all in the family.

In the evening there were actually a few minor guest of honor responsibilities. First, there was the game show. There is a Game Show at the Gathering as well, but this was the first time I had ever participated. It was a team event. And I was with the "all-star" team of Derk, Scott, Jeff, and award-winning designer Tom Lehman. Every team was assigned a letter from which they needed to fashion their team name. Ours was "I" -- spawning the team name "Its a Trap." The game show was great fun. The event was very well run, and we placed a respectable 8th place.
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13. Board Game: Saturday Night Live Trivia Board Game [Average Rating:5.30 Unranked]
Jason Matthews
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OK my second and final duty as Guest of Honor was to join award winning designer Tom Lehman on Geek Speak.

Now, I have officially become the Buck Henry of Geek Speak. I think this is my 4th appearance, and I was just on not that long ago. Mercifully, Tom picked up a lot of slack, and wow'ed all present with his insights on game design and discussions of Race for the Galaxy.

I am pretty sure I spent the evening uttering insults at prominent members of the gaming community. My only defense was the Derk was plying me with cheap wine throughout the interview. That must be some kind of violation of FCC regulations.

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14. Board Game: Sleepy Time [Average Rating:4.33 Unranked]
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OK, I meant to get up and run another demo of Founding Fathers on Sunday. But my week-long sleep deprivation cut my time short. I got up late, packed and needed to say some quick good byes and get out to the airport. I got all that done and had a comfortable flight home.
 
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15. Board Game: Finale [Average Rating:5.55 Unranked]
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OK some closing thoughts.

This convention is going to continue to grow, and I believe will become the premier boardgaming event in the US. Its got a team of ambitious organizers who want the convention want the convention bigger and better every year. Its well situated geographically (easy to get to DFW for almost everyone), and the accomodations are great -- though they will outgrow them in a couple of years.

Since BGG.COM is a community. Its terrific that there is now an established venue for people to meet face to face and bring make material their more ethereal friendships.

There is already a surprising amount of support from the publishers. They really only need better representation from the wargame crowd -- do you hear me GMT -- and they will have the gamut of American publishing community covered. So, it won't be long until you will have the interest of a convention like Origins (big dealer presence) with the fun of a Gathering (lots of people just playing games).

Obviously, as time goes on and the size of the crowd grows, a little more structure may be necessary. But for now it all works quite well, and I would strongly encourage folks on the fence about shelling out the dough, to go ahead and make the plunge. This is a great convention, and I know I will be back.

Jason

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