10 Things to Do at Conventions


Boardgame Opinions (Steve, Mark and I) are all off to AireCon next week.  It’s a boardgame convention that takes place in Harrogate, UK every year.  We’ve been going to the UK Games Expo (the largest convention in the UK) for several years now, but this year, we’re branching out and going to a few others as well.

AireCon supposedly has a focus on simply playing games more than anything else.  It got me thinking though: what do I really want to do at a convention?  The UK Games Expo (UKGE) has a huge variety of activities that you can get involved with, but you only have a certain amount of time.  What should you prioritise?

So today I thought we could look at the possible options for how you might spend your time at a boardgame convention…

  1. Play Games

Virtually every boardgame convention is going to have this as an option and many of them got started by getting a bunch of people together to play games over a weekend.  Certainly that’s how AireCon got started.

Historically, I’ve never done this very much!  I think that’s because I’m fortunate enough to have a thriving boardgame café very near me so if I want to spend a day or two playing games, I can do that pretty much whenever I want.

Having said that, playing games is a great way to meet new people and I’m actually really looking forward to playing a lot of games at AireCon.  For some people, playing games is the primary reason they go to conventions.

  1. Buy Games

When I first went to the UKGE, I was more excited about the trade halls than anything else.  Back then there wasn’t a big games shop in Nottingham and I really enjoyed browsing for boardgames.  The thought of wandering round a huge hall full of retailers selling thousands of games was heaven to me.

UK Games ExpoThe reality was a little different as I had my young son with me at the time and he got bored after about 10 minutes!  I was also unprepared for the sheer volume of people, which made the experience less relaxed than I would like.  Having said that, you often find good prices at conventions, so I usually buy a few!

  1. Cosplay

I’m not sure anyone really goes just for the cosplay, but I think it really enhances the experience.  There always seem to be a bunch of people dressed up in their favourite costumes and they always look great!

  1. Game Demos

You may have looked at some games and thought that you’d love to try them, but you’re not quite sure if you like them enough to buy them.  Many conventions will have publisher stands demoing their games.  The helpful reps will usually show you how to play and take you through a few rounds so that you can get a feel for the game and come to an informed decision about whether to buy it or not.

  1. Game Previews

If you like looking at games that haven’t been released yet, to whet your appetite for what’s to come, the same publishers demoing existing games are usually keen to demo prototype future releases as well.  I for one always enjoy seeing these as I like knowing what kinds of games are being developed and whether there are any interesting new mechanisms.

  1. Shows

Some conventions will have shows, usually put on by popular podcasters such as The Dice Tower or Shut Up and Sit Down.  These can be very entertaining if you’re familiar with the personalities involved.  We always make it a point to catch The Dice Tower’s show at the UKGE each year.

  1. Tournaments

Fancy yourself as a skilled boardgamer?  The big conventions often have lots of different boardgame tournaments going on.  The UKGE always seems to have an insane number of tournaments: boardgames, card games, miniatures games – thousands of people enter these each year.

I used to enter Star Wars: X-Wing tournaments a few years back, but I think my competing days are over.  The standard seems to get higher and higher each year and I can’t keep up!

  1. Discussion Panels

These are where several knowledgeable people form a panel – whether publishers, designers, reviewers or authors – and the audience gets to ask them questions.  Your interest in these panels will probably depend on the particular people involved.  Listening to designers explain how they design their games is likely to be of great interest to some people and very dull for others!

Discussion panel

Personally, having something of a hand in many aspects of the boardgaming industry, I always find these very interesting.  Just how interesting they are though, often depends on how good the questions are, and this can be a bit random.  I’m much more interested in knowing how many hours work a particular reviewer might put into each of their reviews than knowing what their favourite football team is, for instance.

  1. Bring and Buy

Whether formally organised or arranged on an individual basis through Facebook groups, conventions can be a great place to sell your unwanted games or snag a bargain off someone else.  It avoids you having to post your games if you’re selling or pay for postage if you’re buying.  I’ve already arranged to buy something from someone at AireCon next week.

  1. Events

This is a bit of a catch-all as there are many other kinds of events that potentially take place at conventions.  From mega games (where up to 100 people or more all play a game together) to playtesting sessions, from RPG writing seminars to boardgame pub quizzes, there seems to be something for everyone.

What do you enjoy doing most at conventions?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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