I like Dragonmeet and I like GenCon, but they’re far from equivalent experiences. Dragonmeet is a small, one-day, cheap and cheerful event, that draws attendance from a small number of game design luminaries, and runs in the city I live in. GenCon is a four day gaming juggernaut attended by the biggest names in the industry, that takes place on the other side of the planet and costs me hundreds of pounds to get to.
This year I was finally exposed to a sensible middle ground: the UK Games Expo.
All things told, this was a great weekend, in the company of friends and much gaming geekery. I’ll be back next year, probably for the whole thing, as opposed to the Saturday-Sunday trip I cautiously went for this time. In the spirit of last year’s GenCon updates, behold the chronicle of my convention experience…
- Dropped off my bags and actually got to the convention around 12, after wasting most of the morning faffing (idiot). After picking up a programme and vaguely planning what to do for the day, I dropped into the first of four (!) different trading rooms, and got a fabulous deal on the usually hard-to-find Millennium Falcon miniature for X-Wing, courtesy of Chaos Cards.
- A double bill of seminars, both starring Monica Valentinelli of Firefly fame. The first was on diversity in gaming, a topic I’ve seen covered in other convention panels before, but not in as pleasingly structured a fashion. The second was on publishing your own RPG, which again is a familiar subject to me (especially given the welcome inclusion of James Wallis, Dragonmeet mainstay), but it’s always interesting to see how the perspective on these subjects changes over time. The inclusion of Matt McElroy, publishing director for DriveThruRPG, helped to provide input from one of the most powerful forces for first-time RPG publishers today.
- Since shopping had been curtailed for fixed-time seminars, I went straight from lunch back into the trading stalls, covering all the ground I’d missed. Pity my poor friends who had to stand around twiddling their thumbs whilst I dived under tables, flicking through boxes of RPG books, hoping to strike gold. (Actually, don’t pity them, they got to play in fun homemade games that were dotted around the hall.) My diligent efforts were eventually rewarded with a discovery of the now out-of-print Smallville RPG High School Yearbook, at a heavily discounted price to boot. And on a whim, I grabbed a copy of the first issue of Tabletop Gaming magazine, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I want to see the gaming community produce more of. And not at all because they were offering free Terminator Genisys wargame miniatures with it, it’s not like I’m a fanboy or anything.
- In desperate need of a sit-down after hours of shopping, my friends and I carved out territory in the open gaming space, and took advantage of Thirsty Meeples‘ open gaming library to squeeze in a few games of the brilliant Ca$h ‘n’ Guns. I was quietly delighted to be interrupted halfway through by another convention attendee asking what we were playing. Six people pointing silly foam guns at each other invariably draws attention.
After gaming into the late afternoon, I actually dropped out of the convention fairly early to get dinner and hang out with friends back at the hotel. An opportunity for further gaming squandered! But never mind. This was a holiday with friends before all else, and I ended up having just as much laughing and chatting with them until the early hours of the morning as I’m sure I would have had at the convention.
So it was a slightly later than planned start to Sunday, beginning with…
- Crabz, another board game courtesy of Thirsty Meeples’ collection. We were looking for something light and fun to ease us into the morning’s gaming, and that’s exactly what we got, but beneath the breezy, 20 minute, kid-friendly façade there’s something surprisingly deep and sophisticated here. Think I might buy this…
- Yet another Monica Valentinelli/Matt McElroy seminar, this one on licensing existing IP for use in roleplaying games. I attended this one purely for interest’s sake – advice on how to publish my own RPG might have practical value in the future, but publishing my own Star Wars RPG or whatever seems significantly less likely! But interesting it was, and in between the legal technicalities that went over my head, I was particularly intrigued by the hints of what fates befell specific licensed RPGs in the past (Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for example).
- A friend of mine was running “Live the Resistance” throughout the con, a live action roleplayed version of The Resistance hidden roles game. So we popped along to that. The event was well run, and I love The Resistance, so was delighted to share in the dastardly spy victory. I just wish we’d had longer to play. An hour is barely long enough for a regular Resistance game, let alone with all the bells and whistles of a live event (including late arrivals).
- My absolute highlight of the con was “You Awake To Find Yourself In A Dark Room“, a hilarious stand-up comedy set framed around a bizarre 80s style text based adventure game. You awake, a “volunteer” from the audience choose from one of four options, John Robertson screams abuse at you in a Brian Blessed style voice, you choose more options, more abuse, YOU DIE! YOU DIE! YOU DIE! YOU DIE!
- By this point, we were all sufficiently knackered that a bit of gentle board gaming was just what the doctor ordered. First we tried Guess the Mess, another Thirsty Meeples recommendation. Fun whilst it lasted, not seeing a huge amount of replay value. After the games library shut, I settled into a two-player game of Takenoko, one of the purchases a friend had made at the con. I’ve played before and like it fine, though I suspect that luck plays a large role in game outcomes then is ideal for my preferred gaming experience. (Basically I’m sulking because I lost.)
My biggest regret of the weekend was not getting a chance for tabletop roleplaying. This happened at Dragonmeet 2014 too, and perhaps its inevitable when there’s so much going on for something as time consuming as a game session to be skipped over. But the obvious time to go would have been on Sunday afternoon, when nothing else was going on… had I bothered to check the end times of the afternoon slots in advance, and not booked a train that left an hour too early. Only myself to blame!
I heard a lot of contradictory information about attendance throughout the con, but the Expo’s own concluding report has the truth of it: 7000 unique attendees, a pleasingly high number. It made for a crowded event though, so I’m delighted to hear they’re expanding into the Birmingham NEC next year. I will be there for sure, hopefully nerd-herding a crew back with me. Maybe I should write a blog post about my experiences this year to persuade my friends to come to the next one.