I recently went to two cons in a row. I was working for Catalyst running Shadowrun, so I had fun. But, I saw some major differences between these cons. Let’s go con by con and talk about my loves and hates of these cons. Both cons started with some frustrations, but one ended being a con I will happy go back to next year.
AnCon is a smaller con in Hudson, Ohio, May 1-4. It looked like it was about 1-2,000 people. The con is completely inside of a moderately sized hotel with events in the conference rooms and regular rooms, dealers in the ballroom, and other gaming even in the onsite restaurant! The con is organized by MSTB Gaming, and outside of Baldman Games, who I’ve worked for, these guys are the BEST in the business at making a con work well. Everything is really well organized, lines are short, and the trains or Trains board games run on time.
I got to the con at 7 AM after driving for four hours because I’m poor, have to work Friday, and can only afford one night at the hotel. I went to get my badge, and I found out I had to pay for a Judge badge! I was unhappy, but its $25. Some cons give out free badges if you work for X amount of time. I was running 12 hours of Shadowrun, so I was somewhat cranky that I have to pay to do that! But, I found out that this con does an exchange of each person who plays in your games pays two bucks to the con, and, you get one of those. That’s not bad, but I would prefer to just get a free badge. So, I was a little angry running into my first game, but that went away under a tide of fun as I ran three games of Shadowrun in a row. Great times playing with some great people.
Sunday, I woke up early, got my roommates up early (remember: we are poor so we split gas/room. It’s cheaper!), and got to the con. We started with a game of Eminent Domain (review here), followed by Artimis. Artimis is what all the guys/gals who CosPlay Star Trek wish they had when the show was running. It’s a game where every person runs a different part of the ship: helm, weapons, engineering, communications, EVERYTHING! I was the last to sit down, and no one wanted the captain’s chair, so Captain Ed it was! I felt like an idiot, but my crew was competent, so we only lost one star base. Only a few thousand died on my watch, so good job! After that, we played a game called Wrath of the Dragons. It’s a mix of a Eurogame with some American style elements. You play dragons and each century you get to destroy Europe based on cards you play (Euro), but the cards you have are random (American). It was great to play, and I sat down with the designer after. I’ve spent way too much time and money, and got into long discussions on game mechanics and kickstarter price points. Way too much gaming (or far too little!). After that game, I bought a copy of an RPG called BareBones Fantasy. It’s a lighter RPG that is mostly d100 with three main attributes. You do one thing a turn, and can do more, but each additional action costs you -20% for success. I’m really looking forward to playing that one. Then we headed home.
I really loved this con. Its small and I ran into friends I haven’t seen since GenCon. I loved it a lot. The staff was on the ball, and all the spots were set up well in advance. Heck, free WIFI! If you live close, go to this next ~May. I’ll be there.
I also went to MarCon. MarCon is a con that moved a bit. This year it was on Mother’s Day, but it’s been over the Easter weekend a few times. It’s at the Columbus Convention center (same one as the Origin’s Gaming Convention).
I was unhappy before I set foot in the door. A weekend badge is $50 bucks. If you GM 12 hours, they refund your money via PayPal. I hate that. PayPal takes time and I have to hope no one loses my money in the middle. Since I still have to work and am poor, I got there at 7AM. I wanted to be early to set up, and get my badge since my first game is at 9. And, here is where the fun starts. None of my games were listed in the program guide. NONE! That’s a problem, but it’s even worse when I’ve been yelling at the staff via email to check if I have games down there for two months before I spend four hours and $120 driving. So I was a bit mad. Then badge registration doesn’t open till 9AM. It’s a major problem when you can’t get your badge before you get to your table and both open simultaneously! I talked to a few of the con attendance vets, and they said this was on par. So I was pretty pissed come game time. I cleared my head, and hoped for gaming to make life better. I headed down stairs to where gaming was. And here’s where some learning comes in. MarCon is great at what it does, and what it does really well is Panels. MarCon hosts an impressive amount of panels on geek stuff. Topics ranging from NASA funding to how to Cosplay your favorite Lolita Stars were all in the program. So, for my first four hours of gaming, I sat in a large room with lots of tables with no players. Table top gaming was in a large room with lots of six feet in diameter tables. That’s good, but we’re mostly out of the way and not a priority of the con. The room for board games was pretty small, and I’ve been spoiled by the GenCon Board Game library, so when I only saw 10 games, I was let down. Computer gaming had a large following with a projector set up for rock band, and a LAN ready to rock. My second game actually happened, and so did my third when I started to convince random passersby to come play. I ended the day happy, and I decided not to stay the night and went home early. I did meet the Looney Labs crew and they are AWESOME! Bought Loonacy because I met the wife of the husband and wife team that runs the company. Also got to play a secret edition of fluxx that I can’t wait to play again!
This was a learning experience. I can’t leave this con completely mad. There are some people putting in some hard work to make gaming happen at this con. I might not have been thrilled to start the day as an unlisted crazy person sitting behind a GM screen in an empty hall, but I did get two of my three games going. Shadowrun made life better. Just like a good beer after a long, hard day! Also, I went to a panel con expecting a gaming con. Panels are fine, but not my cup of tea. That was a big hit from the learning stick. What makes me mad is organization above the gaming guys. You HAVE to open before events start. I don’t care you don’t need tickets to do stuff. You need a badge to attend panels or play games, so if the con starts at 9, you have to give people a chance to get a badge before the panel/gaming open. That’s really important. Also, all events need to be listed on your program. I know priority number one is getting the sponsors in that book, but priority number two must be accuracy. I’m going out there to convert some people to my game. If I don’t have any advertisement of my game, it doesn’t matter if I’m even there. Organization can only get worse down a chain of command. The MOST I can do is keeping the same level as what I was given; I CAN’T make things more organized above me. I left this con disheartened. I’m not sure I’ll come back next year. Its four hours away, and since it not completely a gaming con, that’s a long way to travel for a gamer.
So two cons in two weeks. It’s not as much fun as I originally thought. It’s kind of expensive, and you see how different things can be. I did learn a few things. One, learn more ahead of time. It’s good to be early and all the other standard courtesy thing, but if a particular con doesn’t roll out of bed before 9. Then, no amount of early will help. If one con is externally rules conscious, then you have to be too. Two, if you ask nice a hotel might waive any fees for dropping your room the day of. Thanks Hilton! Three, while it might not seem it at first glance, if you look, people really care about their fandom. I started my MarCon furious, but by the end I saw some gamers who really wanted to make sure other gamers had a blast. Those guys/gals are building a community out there. Maybe in a few years it will really grow.