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Beginners' Guide

 


Board Games Conventions - the Basics

by Chris Tringham

A Beginners' Guide to conventions, and MidCon in particular, is now available

Introduction 

Let's start with the basics: what is a games convention? Well, at its simplest it's no more than a gathering of people, either in someone's home or in a hired room, playing board games. It will be a non-profit venture, organized by a group of people who are doing it because they enjoy it, and who will have put a lot of time and effort into it for no financial gain.

All convention organizers do their level best to be as professional as possible, and will try to sort out any problems that occur: but they are unpaid volunteers who are doing this in their spare time, so be a little tolerant.

What do you mean by 'board games'?

We mean 'adult' board games (though we are not averse to the odd silly game, particularly late at night!), that range from simple through to highly complex and from a few minutes to five or six hours playing time (and sometimes more!). If you look at the top ranked games on Board Game Geek then that will give you a pretty good idea of what we play but if you are in any doubt please ask one of the convention organizers when you send off for details. Don't worry if you've not played these sort of games before - most are easy to learn, and people will be more than happy to help.

How long do conventions last?

The typical convention starts on a Friday afternoon and ends on Sunday afternoon, though some are longer (Thursday to Monday is usually the longest a convention will run). You can choose to attend for only part of the time, or at some events you can even extend your stay before or afterwards if you wish.

How much does it cost?

You will normally be asked to pay a registration (or convention) fee of 15 - 25 which covers the cost of hiring rooms for the convention and the general expenses of organizing the event. There may be a special daily rate of around 10. In addition, accommodation will usually be available on-site: the organizers will have negotiated a special rate which can be a substantial reduction on normal prices. 

Student accommodation is around 40 per night and hotel rooms range from 35 to 50, which is good value for money. Prices will almost always include a full breakfast, but there is usually a modest single room supplement. The normal arrangement for booking rooms is that up till about 4 weeks before the event all bookings are made through the organizers, and thereafter you must deal directly with the hotel. The main exception to this rule is Manorcon, where all bookings must be made through the organizers. Obviously, you are under no obligation to use the accommodation provided.

What do I do when I get there?

There will be a registration desk somewhere obvious near the entrance, and this is where you'll pick up your badge (so that other people know who you are) and programme booklet (with details of what's happening when and where). There may also be lists for tournaments or other events, and it also tends to act as a central information point.

So what happens at a games convention?

This varies from one convention to another, but there are normally some organized events and plenty of opportunities to play games of all sorts. You will find that the other people are very friendly, so you shouldn't have to wait very long for someone to announce that they are looking for players for a game: they will normally be happy to explain the rules to you. Of course, if you bring a game that you want to play, you could ask for other players. You will also find that people will lend you games that they aren't using (as long as you ask nicely!). There may be a tournament and other organized events such as a quiz or a trip out to a nearby restaurant, providing excellent opportunities to meet other games players.

These days, with social media - such as via the MidCon guild on Boardgamegeek.com - you can often arrange in advance a session of a particular game. 

What facilities can I expect?

The hotel bar at MidCon with lounge off to the left 

This varies quite a bit, but at the very least there will be plenty of tables and chairs. Depending upon licensing laws, you will also find a bar close to the area where you're playing games - if the convention is in a hotel the bar will probably be open all day and late into the night. Food (of some sort) will be available on-site so that you can carry on your games without having to leave the hotel. Additionally, the organizers will normally provide a list of the local eating places if you want to venture further afield. Some conventions have 'games libraries' from which you can borrow games, and some have games on sale. The exact facilities vary from event to event, so please check the convention details elsewhere in this booklet.

People of all ages attend cons

What do I do next?

If you want more information about any of the conventions, write to the relevant address. If you have specific questions (however stupid they might sound) please ask them when you write - the organizers will do their best to help. Once you have decided that you'd like to go to a particular games convention you should register. You do this by sending your registration fee to the address shown, and filling out the form to indicate which events you are interested in and the accommodation you require. For Manorcon  you pay for your accommodation in advance; for the others you pay when you check out at the end of the weekend.

A word of warning - if you book accommodation and subsequently decide not to attend, you may be liable to pay for it anyway. However, as long as you inform the organizers and/or the hotel in reasonable time they will probably be able to find someone else to take your place and you won't have to pay.

You should receive something to confirm your registration, and there may be 'Progress Reports' to keep you up to date with the plans for the event (if you receive one of these it normally means that the organizers have received your booking). At the very least you will receive instructions on getting to the venue and a provisional timetable a week or two before the convention. If not, contact the organizers! If you decide to attend at short notice and want to stay in the hotel (this does not apply to Manorcon), you should contact the hotel directly and book accommodation, mentioning the name of the convention . You can then register for the convention when you arrive. Of course, if you want to try out a convention by visiting for the day, you are very welcome (note that if you arrive after the first day you may need to seek out the organizers to get your badge and program booklet - just ask around). Most conventions have a special daily rate for such visitors.

Is there a catch?

Not at all. There are no hidden charges, and no-one will force you to buy anything else. Some conventions have stalls selling commercial games (often at discount prices), and games inventors may be there encouraging you to play their games in the hope that you'll want to buy. However, they're really there for the fun of it rather than to make money!