Board gaming Louisiana style — a diary of volunteering at a board game room at a regional convention

What a weekend! The second Louisiana Comic Con – Lafayette happened this weekend, and the Board Game Gumbo Krewe was in full force. The convention organizers asked us to man the board game section of the con, which took up a large section of the second floor next to the Main Panel area.

The Krewe responded, bringing eight members to teach new and experienced gamers alike. This was our first time ever staffing a convention, but our members have been to Gen Con, Board Game Geek (the other BGG) con, and many other regional conventions from L.A. to New Orleans.

This is intended not only as a wrap up of the Con and our efforts there, but also as a convention diary to game plan future events, basically a “roses and thorns” of the weekend. We started planning for the event months ago, with planning sessions on our Wednesday night game nights and lots of email, text and Google doc exchanges.

We chose this Con for obvious reasons, because it is in our backyard, but also because we could test some of our ideas on a smaller crowd. We hoped to leverage our previous experience as attendees at larger cons into really upgrading the fan experience.

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Day One before the rush

What did we want to accomplish? What would we offer the con and the convention goers? These are questions any volunteer organization needs to answer to have an impact at a Con.

First, we talked about what our goals were. After a lot of discussion, we thought back to last year’s con. Because board gaming is still a relatively new hobby to most of this area (although there are individually many players with lots of experience, we are vastly outnumbered by those interested in the hobby), we thought we would focus on one of our strengths — teaching quick, simple but engaging games to the casual fan and interested gamer, while sprinkling in the latest hotness from Gen Con and deeper games for those that are inclined.

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Splendor and Colt Express

Next, we researched what our assignments would be. That’s where Mike Russell, the staff member in charge of the board game area, came in. We reached out to him and the AVC, the owners of the con, for suggested assignments, and were happy when they gave us carte blanche to brainstorm new ideas to….well…spice up the con. We quickly agreed that manning at least four or five tables in one corner of the room would give us a visibility and inviting presence for those new gamers that might be a little intimidated by leaping into the hobby.

On Friday night, we showed up early to help set up the area and check in with the main convention staff.

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Getting our credentials

Basically, we organized the room into three areas. Once convention goers entered the area, they saw a big friendly sign that invited them to play games for free, with a chance to win free games. (We gave away Celestia, Five Tribes, Hand Off -LSU, and the New York 1901 architect promos — and all were big hits!) Ahead of them was a large library with free tables brought by Mike Russell and his crew. (Mike is with IGA, and has lots of contacts in the industry, so he brought an amazing collection — everything from entry level mass market games to the latest big releases.)

 

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Betrayal at the House on the Hill

To the right we set up an area for designers to get players for prototypes, and two guys from Lafayette (Joshua Sonnier and Lester Tisdale) working on a great new card game design called Kaiju Crisis brought their prototype and dozens and dozens of people try over the weekend. Their tables were crowded all weekend long. Joshua told me that he and Lester were ecstatic  with the number of players and feedback that they got.  Lafayette has always had a very active CCG scene, so he had good feedback from players familiar with card game combos and attacks. Check out their GoFundMe page here.

 

 

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Just some of the crowd that visited one part of the board games area.

Finally, to the left, the Krewe set up a long line of tables with a wall of games behind them. Each Krewe member manned a table, or walked the floor, and invited players to try out the games already set up or pick out a game from the wall for playing.

 

That part we were not sure about going into the Con. Would we get players interested in trying games that they have never heard of? Would people be too intimidated by the neon yellow shirts the convention gave us?

On Saturday morning, things started slow. The excitement of a Comic Con is in visiting the entire convention at first, checking out the vendor hall (which was huge for a regional con, with lots of variety including a booth from my old high school classmate, Kenneth Kidder, who has attended 18 cons this year promoting the release of his independent RPG game, Tortured Earth), and seeing all the cosplayers. It takes a little while for people to wander upstairs to the panel rooms and the board game room.

Bradly and I set up some demo areas of 51st State from Portal Games and My Village from Stronghold Games. This was right after the doors opened, so we had some quiet time to show the game to a few interested people. Once the attendees made it through the vendor area and up the escalator around 11:00 am, it was a mad house from then until close!

The rest of the weekend for me was spent encouraging folks to join our tables. I also got to demo My Village on Sunday morning, teach a few games of Bottom of the 9th, and even got to play in a few new games and old favorites: New Bedford, Splendor, Celestia (twice!), Imperial Settlers, Colt Express, New York 1901 (twice!), and Abyss.

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We not only played our friend Chenier LaSalle’s New York 1901 twice, with these gorgeous new painted miniatures, but thanks to Blue Orange Games, we even gave away two free sets of figures and a ton of other promos!

I had some of my favorites and some of the newest games I picked up at GenCon on the window shelf right behind my table. After the My Village demos were done each day, we let visitors pick out games from the shelf.At first, people were a little hesitant, but when they came back on Sunday, they were ready to play!

One of the games that was a bit hit on Sunday was Colt Express. I played it with a few gamers, and one of them was so excited, he stayed to play and taught the game to two other groups (with a little help from me on the first, but not much on the second game at all.) That was really a success!

We had numerous visitors come right up to the table and ask about certain games and whether we were able to teach them, and of course, we accommodated them.

I taught Kirk how to play a Bottom of the 9th, from Dice Hate Me Games and Greater Than Games, and he quickly set up the game for new players. That was a big hit! The game is gorgeous, the game play is easy to teach, frantic and really feels like baseball, and is a great game to introduce to new gamers. We had a lot of young players familiar with games who jumped right in, while dad (who wasn’t a gamer) watched. It didn’t take long before Kirk was able to sit the dads down, too, and we may have brought in some new gamers into the fold.  Kirk told me by the end of the day he had basically played two nine inning games of baseball!

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Cry Havoc — Dustin found some experienced war gamers and converted them into board gamers, at least for the weekend!
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One of many, many plays of Jamaica during the day.

Dustin came in on Sunday to relieve Kirk, and brought a whole host of colorful games, running the gamut from the easy to teach Jamaica, to the brightly designed Asking for Trobils, from the design studio Kraken Games right down the road from us in Houston (reprint coming soon!). We met a few former war gamers, who were looking for a good game to get into in the board game hobby side, and so Dustin broke out Cry Havoc from Grant Rodiek and Portal Games, which was a big hit.

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One of many games of King of Tokyo, but if you look closely at other pictures on the site, you will see the colorful bits of Terraforming Mars being played, too!

Dave (the Kaplan Capo) brought a whole mix of games, everything from light and easy party games to some great Euros. He started off the crowd with King of Tokyo, which was a big success. He also broke out Celestia, Camel Up, Love Letter, Splendor, and a host of other games.

He and his wife Melissa had a great time introducing family weight games, and his side of the table was full all weekend long. They also had the pleasure of generating lots of tickets for our raffle, where we gave away Celestia and Hand Off on the first day — so it was not a surprise when players of their games won both games!

Bryan is our resident card game expert, and he brought two of his favorites. He loves the Legendary system, and brought Legendary Encounters: A Firefly Deckbuilding Gameto the table all day on Saturday and Sunday morning. He also knew that comic book fans not familiar with gaming might be enticed if they saw their favorite heroes on the table, so he brought out the DC Comics Deckbuilding Game, and taught numerous new gamers how to play.

Carlos played more than just Camel Up, although every time I took a picture it seemed like he had a new group of players joining in a new game! He was the go to guy as the moderator for Mysterium, lending a spooky flavor to a number of games with new and experienced players alike. Plus, he enjoyed a few innings with the convention guests in Bottom of the 9th. And, he even squeezed in a game or two of Ashes and Lords of Waterdeep! Busy guy.

Last, but not least, Bradly taught a whole slew of games. In fact, he had a table set up just for the large collection he brought to the con. He had complete play throughs of 51st State, Hanabi, DC Deck Building, Artifacts Inc. and even ran a long demo of Castles of Mad King Ludwig on Sunday morning.

We also took part in our first ever panel. I was asked to be a moderator at an “Intro to Board Gaming” panel on Sunday morning, so I invited Bryan and Dave from Board Game Gumbo as well as two organizers of the game nights at our local board game stores.

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(from L to R) Bryan, BJ, Andy, Andy, and Dave

Andrew “Andy” Graves from Sword & Board came and talked up his game night, along with his favorite games to break out for new gamers. Andrew “Andy” Lee from And Books Too talked up his store’s efforts to bring in new gamers as well as his favorite genres for new people to the hobby. Bryan talked about conventions, and also how playing deck builders is an easy entry into the hobby especially for fans of CCGs. Finally, Dave talked about a few of his favorite games and then gave an impassioned talk encouraging the audience to join a game group as it can really amp up your participation in the hobby.

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Dave, the Kaplan Capo, encouraging new gamers to join a game group.

Whew. As I said on Twitter, I have a newfound appreciation for the volunteers around the country who give up their weekends to introduce the hobby to new gamers and to teach experienced gamers the latest games or classic games we may have missed. Kudos also to the designers, developers, publishers and vendors themselves who not only work tirelessly to bring us great games but also give up their free time to market the hobby at these conventions, which now occur just about every weekend of the year.

I also was frankly surprised at the depth and complexity of games we were able to bring out. I was worried that new players might not be interested or feel comfortable handling games with complex mechanics, but as the weekend wore on, we were able to introduce more and more deeper games. Admittedly, any game with eye popping features — like the train set from Colt Express or the airship from Celestia or the camels / pyramid of Camel Up — was an easy draw, but games like 51st State, Abyss, New Bedford, Asking for Trobils, and Terraforming Mars were all hits.

I may add to this little diary from time to time as we plan the Board Game Gumbo’s next con adventure. I hope this blog entry encourages other people already involved in the hobby but who have never volunteered at a con to reach out to their local conventions like we did and offer to help.  Make sure you come visit us at the next convention (some of us will be at BGG.Con this year), or come by Louisiana Comic Con in 2017 to see how we can Spice it up!

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

— B.J.

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