This past weekend I attended an event that I would classify as a micro-convention. Gamerati in collaboration with Dragonflight held a game day where members from both groups came together for a day full of gaming, complete with a tournament, game demonstrations from publishers, a few vendors, an open play game library, and a prototype lab.
The great thing about a micro-convention like this is that it is all about playing games. Yes, there were vendors selling their wares (I even picked up a cool aluminum die!), and publishers running demos, but the real focus is having a place to gather and play games for longer than that four-hour window that we usually get at our weekly game night. However, I noticed something as I observed the hall throughout the day. The various groups of people that were there; friends, families (with and without young children), gaming groups, and role-players were keeping to their groups for the most part. Whomever somebody was playing games with at one time during the day, they were usually with the same people at other times throughout the day. Role-players I understand have to keep to their own groups, as they have campaigns, pre-existing characters and story-lines to uphold, but everyone else should be breaking groups to play games with other people, otherwise why go to a convention? For everyone that I played with (aside from one demo), I could have done so at the regular meetup I attend. In a convention setting the event organizers have the means to help people organize games outside of their regular groups, and all it takes is a bit more planning and effort. To be clear, I am not saying that the game day was a bad event, I am just saying that it could have been better for some (myself included) if just a few simple things had been implemented. I think that in smaller events like this one, the organizers assume that most of the people will know each other or at least a fair number of people, and don’t take into account that some people (like me) might be there who are new to the area, new to the group, or even walked in off of the quad (the event was held at a college).
For the record I am detrimentally shy when it comes to engaging with people that I don’t know, so let’s look at my day as an example. I arrived shortly after the hall opened to a fairly light crowd, and I immediately found one of my friends who pointed me to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game demo and went off to check in with someone else. We decided that we would get together shortly after to do a demo of Level 7. After my demo he was playing a Cthulhu Wars demo, so I wandered around and found myself in the prototype lab playing another friend’s game. When I was finished in the prototype lab, the Cthulhu Wars demo was still going so I signed up for a Magic: the Gathering draft thinking that it would fire off shortly. It did not. Throughout the day more people gathered in the hall, but I would say that it never felt crowded, and there was always an open table available… which is a good thing! Cthulhu Wars eventually ended because everyone involved was getting frustrated with how long it was taking. However, some of the people that we wanted to play Level 7 with were then involved in a Pixel Tactics tournament, a tournament which I had passed on specifically so that I would have time to play the demo. I was able to spend a bit of time teaching my friend to play Star Realms with the new Colony Wars expansion which I picked up from one of the vendors. Finally it looked like the Magic draft would fire off, but some of those who had signed up early on were no longer interested. Some other friends showed up and we played the prototype game from earlier, and then played some Codenames until the hall closed at midnight.
I always go into these game days with a lot of enthusiasm. I packed one of those huge Ikea bags full of games, and I learned several games in advance so that I would be ready to play and teach them. I loaded up my Magic decks because it seemed like there would be a decent MtG presence. I was amped to play games all day long, but in the end, mainly due to my own personality, I spent more than half of my time just waiting for those one or two people that I know, who were all very busy throughout the day. Yes, I am mostly to blame due to the shyness that I mentioned before, but event organizers have the means to help people like me get into the games that they want to play, and I’ve see them used with very good results in past events.
First and foremost, schedule games throughout the day. Have a set person who will bring the game, lead it (playing if there is an open spot), and teach it if necessary. Ensure that the game runner is present at the event, that they are at their assigned table with the game set up and ready to go by the assigned time. Provide the schedule on the event website, and have sign up sheets on-site, or if you have the capability, allow online sign ups. By having scheduled games and people that you know will be able to lead/teach the game, you allow people from various groups to come together and play a game that maybe they weren’t aware of or had been wanting to play but didn’t have access to it.
Next, for very popular games like Star Realms, Love Letter, King of Tokyo or King of New York, and Smash Up run tournaments throughout the day. Even longer games like Catan or Ticket to Ride are wonderful for tournaments. These more popular games are usually well known with minimal teaching required. In addition, many people have them so getting multiple copies to the event should be easier. While having any tournament is great, there isn’t a lot of flexibility for the people at the event if they happen to be in a situation where they can’t play that tournament for some reason. Having multiple tournaments throughout the day (maybe three at an event of this size) gives people the option to get into at least one of those. Thankfully, most of the game publishers offer means to obtain prize support, but even if they don’t, a simple gift certificate to one of the vendors, or free membership for a month (or a year) are easy things to offer as prizes.
In addition to scheduled games, there needs to be a way for us shy gamers to get into games with other players on the fly. I recommend sign up sheets at the game library and/or signs (bold letters on bright paper) that say “LOOKING FOR PLAYERS”. Sign up sheets could have contact info and whomever is the last to sign up contacts the others on the list to get the game going, or if there is access to a PA system, the staff running the game library could make an announcement.
There is one common thread among my suggestions, and that is staff. Organized events like this need people to volunteer their time in order to make the day run smoothly. Scheduled games and tournaments need people to run them, teach the game if necessary, record scores and generate pairings for the rounds. A successful game library needs someone to man it all day long (ideally in shifts) so that there is always someone there to answer questions and make recommendations. I think there was someone at the game library all day, they were just in a game at the table next to the library most of the time. A great benefit of an event like this is that you have months and months to plan. You can ask in your regular groups for volunteers and offer free memberships, lunch, a greater discount at the vendors, or even just an event t-shirt to lure them into giving their time.
The beauty of an all day event like this is the ability for people of all types to come together and play games that they otherwise might not have the time or group of people to play. Sadly, without a fair amount of structure, some players (myself obviously being one) will have a hard time actually getting an enjoyable experience, and just a little more structure from the event organizers will mitigate this greatly.