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Posted on Feb 21, 2006 in Stuff We Like

Go Ahead . . . Con Me!

By Kaarin Engelmann

Whether you enjoy pick-up games or tournament play, conventions enhance opportunities for armchair generalship.

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World Boardgaming Championships 2005

Frustrated in your quest to find opponents to pit yourself against for your favorite historical wargames? Although computer games and local game clubs can fill some of the void, conventions go a step beyond. Conventions allow you to try favorite strategies on new opponents, play games before shelling out cash for them, learn rules instead of just reading them, and often make new friends.

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Finding the right conventions can be tricky. A few years ago, we drove five hours to Pittsburgh because some of my old favorite games were on the schedule. There were plenty of attendees-but almost all were playing something else. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long. To avoid the same outcome, consider attending on of the following conventions.

MonsterGame.CON (link), sponsored by Consimworld, is one of the best venues for anyone interested in historical boardgames. It runs from June 6-11 in Arizona. Now in its sixth year, the convention offers round-the-clock gaming for serious grognards, though there is no tournament play. In 2005, about 200 people attended just to play wargames.

With "monster" games, most players rarely get beyond reading the rules, fondling the counters, and spending 12 months with the map spread out on the dining room table. With this convention, pre-registration matches up those who want to play the same monster game to completion. It also offers open gaming of shorter games.

Beyond gaming, attendees have the chance to hear breakfast after-action reports, spend money in the exhibitor’s room or at the flea market and game auction, play-test new designs, and meet renowned game designers.

World Boardgaming Championships (link), sponsored by the Boardgame Players Association (BPA), brings more than 1,100 boardgamers together in Lancaster, Pa., for up to nine days of competition. There is a distinct emphasis on scheduled tournaments, but open gaming is also popular.

Although the convention isn’t limited to wargames, the genre is well represented and Grognard tournaments have at least 20 participants EACH. Some of the larger tournaments pull in close to 100 players.

WBC’s main event begins Tues., Aug. 1, but "mini-cons" (see single game conventions, below) start the previous Saturday, allowing wargamers plenty of time to whet their appetites. New in 2006 is Grognardcon, which allows players to arrive early and play preliminary rounds of traditional, hex-style wargames. Winners advance to finals later in the week.

Beyond WBC, BPA sponsors several small tournaments throughout the year dedicated to a single wargame. (See below for more information.) One of these, BPA Block Party – also hosted by the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society-offers tournament and open play for historical wargames that use wooden blocks instead of cardboard counters. (BPA also sponsors Play-By-e-Mail tournaments, but that is fodder for a later column.)

Regional Conventions

While regional conventions expand your gaming opportunities, their size sometimes means that there are no more wargamers present than in your local group. I’ve listed several below that present a good chance of success.

PrezCon (link), in Charlottesville, Va., runs the last week of February and may be the best regional convention for historical boardgamers. A nice feature is track scheduling, which reduces conflicts for players with focused interests, such as Classic Wargames. A Monster Game Event uses dedicated rooms for uninterrupted play during the convention. There is also plenty of open gaming.

Buckeye Game Fest (link) is an Ohio-based convention sponsored by the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society. Gaming is limited to boardgames and miniatures; wargames are mostly limited to open gaming.

Genghis Con and Tacticon (link) are large regional conventions in Denver. It is a great place for miniatures players and railroad gamers. There are two wargame tournaments-Victory in the Pacific and War at Sea (link). They pull in around 10 players each. A smattering of classic Avalon Hill titles show up in open gaming.

ConQuest San Francisco (link) is one of several West Coast conventions that Avalon Conventions sponsors throughout the year. While these conventions offer everything from miniatures to role-playing and card games, there are a few historical boardgaming events mixed in.

KublaCon (link), scheduled for Memorial Day weekend near San Francisco, offers several opportunities to play historical board games. Columbia Games attends and runs a special "Block Party" event, with demos and competitive play.

A group of boardgame and miniatures players in the Washington, DC-metropolitan area is putting together TriaDCon (link), which is scheduled for Sept. 16-17 in College Park, Md. Initial plans include an opponent matching service for monster games, similar to MonsterGame.CON, but on a smaller scale. There will also be some Iron Man-type tournaments and open gaming. This one is wait and see.

Although more of a manufacturer-sponsored convention than a regional con, GMT East (link), in New York State, is a good choice for anyone who enjoys historical boardgames. It provides a mostly informal atmosphere, interspersed with planned events and tournaments. GMT Games also offers Game Days every few months at its warehouse in California.

Single-Game Conventions

Anyone with a serious passion for a particular wargame should consider attending a mini-con, a small convention devoted to play of a single game. The goal is to keep distractions low and the level of competition high. I know players who cross the Atlantic to participate.

Avalon Hill’s classic Victory in the Pacific (VITP) ranks high on the list of games people will play anytime, anywhere. About 35 players use BPA’s Rising Sun mini-con to hone their skills. It takes place the three days before WBC (link).

Also for VITP, Glenn Petroski runs the Midwest Open (link), which brings together about 35 players. John Pack runs three PBeM brackets and the World E-mail Championships for VITP (link).

Multiman Publishing lists many Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) events on its tournament web page (link), including the West Coast Melee in Irvine, Calif., Nor’Easter in Massachusetts, and Bitter Ender in North Carolina. Unlisted opportunities to play include the Central Texas ASL Club’s event in Austin (link) and BPA’s Recon mini-con.

Enlightenment is BPA’s Age of Renaissance tournament. Last year’s event (the eighth) hosted 25 players, including 13 of the 30 top-ranked players. In 2006, the con will include an introductory tournament for GMT’s Manifest Destiny. Other mini-cons (link) include D-Day (for Avalon Hill’s Breakout Normandy) and Waterloo (for GMT’s Napoleonic Wars).

BPA’s Winter Activation Meeting is a targeted mini-con for two-player, card-based strategic boardgames, such as GMT’s Paths of Glory and Wilderness War, Avalon Hill’s Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage and We the People, and Columbia Games’ For the People.

While conventions aren’t the only way to feed a wargaming addiction, they appeal to me mostly because I rarely get to play otherwise, but also because I’ve made many friends and discovered new favorite games. If you have another convention that you enjoy, please pass the word to me.

Discuss boardgame conventions in our boardgaming forum.

Author’s Information

Kaarin Engelmann (kengelm@yahoo.com) is a freelance writer and editor based in Springfield, Virginia. She is part of Engelmann Military Simulations and currently serves on the board of directors for the Boardgame Players Association (link), which sponsors the World Boardgaming Championships.

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