Intro to modern boardgaming 3: Game Conventions

by Gil Hova

I’m going to back up for a moment and talk about gaming in general, not just board games.

Heather and I show up at the occasional game convention.  We had one a couple of weeks ago, and we have a couple of cons coming up next week.

A game convention is an event that usually takes the space of a weekend, and it’s usually held in a hotel.

You can find all kinds of games at a gaming con, like…
* Roleplaying games. These are games in which players sit around a table and come up with a story. Each player takes up the role of one of the story’s characters.

Most roleplaying games requre one player to act as referee or “gamemaster” (GM). The GM understands the structure of the entire story (or “adventure,” as it’s more commonly called), and can surprise players by throwing in a shock twist. The GM will also play the role of any character not handled by the players.

RPGs are usually not competitive, in the sense that one player is trying to beat the others, or the GM is trying to beat the players. Rather, the usual case is that the players are trying to survive the adventure as a team, and the GM is there to provide tension and challenge, among other things.

You might know of Dungeons & Dragons, the first roleplaying game. That game is alive and well after all these years, but other RPGs are quite popular.

Amusingly enough, there’s a division between mainstream RPGs like D&D and smaller “indie” games like Dogs in the Vineyard and Burning Wheel, with the latter games offering more innovative, refined mechanics.  It’s very similar to the Euro-American board game split, with old school butting up against new school.

* Board games. My bread-and-butter. You’ll find all sorts of games here, but it seems that the more thematic games with the American aesthetic are more popular at game conventions..

I think there are two possible reasons for this. First, many roleplayers prefer strongly-themed games, based on my admittedly unscientific perception. Part of roleplaying is immersing yourself in a story, and while board games are not as good at narratives as RPGs, I think a player who enjoys immersiveness will be more at home in a game which has a strong, solid theme.

Second, roleplayers at cons play their games in fairly intense 4-hour blocks. It’s easier to follow that with a light, silly 30-minute game than a strategic 2-hour brainburner.

* LARPs. These are Live Action Roleplaying Games.  They’re like the tabletop roleplaying games I mentioned before, but in these, the participants actually dress in costume and act their character out. Kind of like the difference between someone who reads Civil War books and someone who participates in Civil War re-enactments.

* Computer games. Most people will find these familiar. You’ll mainly see the standard first-person shooters here like Counterstrike, though I’ve seen casual games like Zuma and Peggle too.

* Console games. These are your Xbox, Wii, and Playstation 3 games. There’s a few differences in the mindset between PC and console games, but that gap seems to have narrowed in the past few years as consoles have matched and exceeded the technical level of your average PC.

Ten years ago, PC games were the center of innovation. Nowadays, franchises like Rock Band and Khatamari make me miss having a console.

I mention all this because it’s pretty dizzying to see the wide array of options you have at a game convention.  Also, some cons specialize in one kind of gaming over another.

First I’ll mention Ubercon.  This is a special con for Heather and me, because it was our first one.  Ubercon is a standard small-to-medium-sized game convention, with a wide array of all of the above game options.  I used to run the board game track with my friend Andrew, and Heather used to be a registration desk zombie.  We don’t have the time to volunteer that kind of time anymore, but we still show up for mad gaming.

Tomorrow is Thanksnerding, a Thanksgiving event held by the good folks at nerdnyc.  Gaming will be pretty light over there.  They tend to favor indie RPGs (aren’t you glad you read all of the above so you know what I mean?) over board games, but I’m slowly pulling some of them over to my side.  Don’t tell them I said that though, I want them to continue to feel safe!

THE BIG ONE is coming up on Thursday, though.  On Thursday, Heather and I fly to Dallas for BGG.CON, a massive board game con held by the authoritative BoardGameGeek site.  This is a special con for a few reasons…

* It’s all board games.  Nothing against the other kinds of gaming, but it’s nice to see board games not be shunted to the side or considered just a break in between RPG slots.  If you’re here, you’re hear for board gaming.

* There’s a massive library of old, out-of-print, and hard-to-find games.  It’s excruciatingly difficult to find games of Outpost, McMulti, Big City, or any other game that can fetch a few hundred bucks on eBay.

* I get to play all the newest games.  And I mean newest.  Last month was Essen Spiele, the largest board game exhibition in the world.  It’s held in Germany, and there are a lot of highly-anticipated titles released there.

* Lots of publishers are there, and in fact, I’ll be pitching Prolix to someone while I’m there.  Keep your fingers crossed!

For the record, here are my top 5 must-plays next weekend.

Space Alert

Space Alert

Duck Dealer

Duck Dealer

Le Havre

Le Havre

Planet Steam

Planet Steam

Tulipmania 1637

Tulipmania 1637