Game Lab: In praise of the local game convention

October 28, 2010

Ever been to a game convention? No, no, I don’t mean those massive affairs like GenCon, PAX or Essen.

I mean that gathering of 50, 100 or 200 people at that local community college or airport hotel. You know the one: you saw their flyer on the counter the last time you were at your local game store. A little black and white slip of paper that probably flew off someone’s home laser, boldly emblazoned with a name like CoolCityCon or Mytown Meetup or StarCon or some such thing. Did you take that flyer? Did you post it on your to do list? Make a point of going with all your friends? No? Well, good reader, let me tell you what you are missing.


What’s in it for me?

Games: Yeah, that’s what you’re here to do! Play games. The local game convention is going to be in a hotel or rental hall and it’s likely to have a few score tables set up for an entire weekend, from the morning to late in the evening where you can game and game and game to your heart’s content. They’ll have organized events in lots of different fields – board, card, minis, and role playing. This is an excellent opportunity to take time out of your daily grind for some focused gaming action. Whether you’re into pickup games with friends or finding something different with strangers, you can know that the local game convention’s gonna have it.

People: You’re gonna be spending hours on end with other gaming fanatics like you. This is your chance to hang out with your tribe, enjoy the jokes and good times you like the most with people who get you – and who want to play the games you want to play. Yep, this is the time to get that special or rare game on the table or to find that new thing you’ve been wanting to try before you buy. Be sure and bring your old gaming friends along with you to share the experience, but expect to make new friends over a game too.

Extras: Your local game convention is going to be the kind of place you’re going to find the local artist who makes cool dice bags, your local game store offering their wares at a special convention discount, raffles, game libraries, silent auctions, awards ceremonies, math trades, movie screenings, wireless handheld meetups, you name it. The local game convention is going to be the kind of place where special events and extras are going to be on the agenda. Make a little scratch on the side by selling your games in an auction.


The local game convention’s great benefits

Networking: You’re gonna be gaming with other gamers. And they’ll want to game again in the future; why wait for the game convention next year? When (not if) you run into people who’d be a good fit for your weekly gaming session, invite them over. And be open to an invitation yourself. This is a great way to reach out and find new folks to game with, new friends who share your interests.

New experiences: The convention is going to have a raft of events and it’s highly unlikely you’ve seen it all or done it all. That game you’ve been eyeing up online may very well be hitting the table with a person ready to teach it to you. Sometimes, even game producers will be there eager to demo their latest offerings. And there are the other gamers there for first person interviews on their experiences with games. Heck, you might even be able to swing a few good playtest runs of that game you’ve been designing – lots of people are interested in seeing the next big thing.

Special games: That game that only plays with 8? Guess where you’re gonna find 8. (Not at your dining room table or in your basement rec room.) But the convention will have plenty to fill up two Werewolf sessions or enough like-minded folks to fill that game of Diplomacy. Wanna get a Magic: The Gathering draft going? No problem. Heck, you might even be able to find a big tournament for a game like that. Multi-round role playing events are doable affairs with convention hours. A whole series of train games in a row might be on tap if that’s what blows your steam whistle. There’s going to be a big group of gamers looking to game, so take advantage of it!

Low costs: Have you flown cross country and stayed in a hotel to enjoy a big game convention? It’s fun, but you’re gonna break the bank on that kind of effort if you do it too often. The entry fee alone at a lot of these things is off the charts, but not at your local game convention. It usually costs less than a pair of movie tickets, and you’re getting days of solid gaming in exchange. You can sleep in your own place and often bring your own food (or go out to your favorite places to get it). Costs often go even lower if you can run a few hours of gaming too.

Close to home: You did get the world “local” right?  This is not going to take days of vacation time from your job just to travel there and back.  You can hop in the car in the morning and be gaming before breakfast if you want.  Driving an hour or so can take you a long way these days at highway speed, but if you’re in a major metro area, you may not even need that.


Got nothing near you? Make it happen!

Frankly, I don’t buy it: gaming is everywhere. If you have to, you can make it happen yourself, but I’d wager there are already a host of people in your area attending a game convention nearby and you might not even know it. How can you make this event an even bigger success for you and your gaming friends? There are at least a couple of ways to contribute.

Volunteering: Local game conventions depend on the host of excellent volunteers they get to organize and run great events. If you’ve got passion for a game or you want to make sure it hits the table, sign up as an event organizer! It’s a casual affair, so you can most likely play in whatever game you bring, teaching something you love to others while helping to make the event a success. Or run something bigger like a tournament; as players to bring their own copies of the game so you have enough to go around.  Write up that killer RPG one-shot you’ve always wanted to run. Paint up your other army for a head-to-head smashup scenario. By running a game you love, you’re making the convention better and making sure you have fun too. 

Organizing: Conventions need infrastructure to be successful. There are registration websites that need to be maintained, a check-in desk that needs staff for an hour here or there, someone to contact and wrangle vendors and guests, setup and takedown specialists and sometimes even food and hospitality experts. A game convention doesn’t just happen on its own; the most valuable people there are the ones giving back to the community to make the event a first-class success. You could always join their ranks to make it even better.

The local game convention is a hub of great gaming activity. If you aren’t already taking advantage of this, what are you waiting for? Dig around online to find something in your area and start enjoying the benefits as soon as it rolls around again.

Eric Jome can usually be found at his favorite local game conventions: Oshcon, Fire & Ice, Gaming Hoopla and Midwinter Gaming Convention.