I’m away this weekend at a rather unusual convention called DellCon. It’s hosted by the UK’s first boardgame B&B: The Dell House. Located in the Malvern Hills, which is designated as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, it is unsurprisingly set in very picturesque surroundings.
DellCon is unusual for a few reasons. Firstly, there are only 16 people in attendance. Although the B&B itself can house more than 16 people, the numbers are intentionally kept low to allow people to get to know each other well and to provide perfect numbers for gaming.
Another unusual feature is that food is provided for everyone, for the whole weekend. Meals are communal and really help you make friends and relax. Sound interesting? Let me tell you all about it…
Malvern is a spa town set in a gorgeous part of the Worcestershire countryside, not too far from Wales. It is very hilly; climbing the local Malvern Hills gives you a great view of the surrounding area. The town itself is full of quaint shops from second-hand bookshops, to New Age supplies, to vegan health stores. Walking around the narrow streets is a very pleasant experience that seems to hold a new surprise around every corner.
The Dell House bed and breakfast is situated a little way out from the centre and is very well maintained by Elizabeth and Kevin, who run the place. The garden is huge and is remarkable in and of itself. It’s one of those gardens that fascinates children with hidden paths, a Victorian playhouse, wood carvings and Kevin is even in the middle of constructing a giant model railway!
Inside feels just as large as the garden, with spacious, well-decorated rooms. Everything about the Dell House feels spacious. The high ceilings certainly help with this, but the main bathroom is bigger than an entire bedroom in most B&Bs. It comes kitted out with a shower and a free-standing bath, despite the fact that the only thing you’re likely to use it for during the weekend is the toilet.
The main games room has a decent library of modern boardgames (although most attendees bring a few of their own games), comfortable chairs and several large tables that are perfect for gaming. People are encouraged to game in the main room, although there are other rooms where people can game if you have a particularly noisy game and don’t want to disturb other gamers.
Four is the perfect number for so many games, and while you are free to play games with different numbers of players, having 16 people means that four groups of four often form naturally. Kevin and Elizabeth do a good job of making sure everyone is in a game when they want to be.
Although gaming runs pretty much all weekend (eg. 9:30am – 11:00pm on the Saturday), gaming is not compulsory by any means and attendees are free to take a break, explore the garden or just chill out with a cup of tea whenever they fancy.
Having all your meals provided means that you don’t need to worry about food at all (Elizabeth is also great at providing for dietary requirements, which is a godsend for me since I have to eat gluten free). There is a constant supply of drinks, homemade cakes and biscuits outside of meal times if you get peckish. The meals themselves are very social occasions. Everyone sits down together at two large tables and it allows you to get to know the other attendees in a way that you wouldn’t at other conventions.
The fact that you’re seeing the same 15 people all weekend also facilitates making friends much more readily than gaming with random interchanging people all weekend (or just gaming with the people you came with). People are encouraged to vary who they play with over the weekend incidentally, so this also helps with getting to know everyone.
A wide variety of games get played over the weekend from heavy euros to party games to war games to adventure games (my personal favourite!). People play the games they want, but there seems to be enough variety between people’s tastes that most genres of games are covered at some point.
This weekend is my second DellCon and I’m coming again with my son to the next one in a few weeks. That’s the other unusual thing about these conventions: they happen a lot, typically 7 or 8 times a year.
If you like smaller boardgame conventions in attractive surroundings, I couldn’t recommend DellCon highly enough. I’m sure I will be back for many more!
The Dell House
2 Green Lane, Malvern, WR14 4HU