One of the joys of being an editor of a board game blog is that you come into contact with board gamers from all over the place. For years, the Krewe de Gumbo has taken the board game party on the road to places like San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, Indy, and Orlando for gaming. Plus, we help out at our local comic con with its small gaming section. And through those events, we’ve met so many cool gamers!
But what would it be like if we could have a convention dedicated to board gaming all of our own right here in the heart of Acadiana?
Well, this past Saturday, dreams finally became a reality as the Krewe de Gumbo attended in force the first annual Southern Board Game Fest.
First, you have to understand something about the “festival” part of the name. We don’t have conventions or meetings here in Louisiana. That’s just too bland. We spice ‘em up with FESTIVALS. Every little town has one. The world famous Mamou Cajun Music Festival. The Boudin Festival. The Swine Festival. We even have a festival celebrating the Yam (what you might know as a sweet potato).
Enter John Newman with New Hope, a local ministry that provides after school tutoring and mentoring for disadvantaged children. John is a big board gamer with a big heart. He had a dream to do a festival centered on board games as a fundraiser for New Hope. The plans were to start small and grow it from there.
This first year, we had a limited space at the Lafayette Science Museum but it was big enough for 100-200 gamers. Through John’s tireless advertising and media appearances, the fest sold out of all tickets weeks before the event! That got the Krewe excited because that meant lots of gamers were coming! And with the help of dozens of volunteers, his vision of a board game only festival came to life.
FUELIN’ UP AND GETTIN’ READY
Southern Board Game Fest was scheduled to start bright and early at 9:00 am, but the Krewe got started early with some breakfast at a local diner called Dwyer’s. It’s been around for years — I used to eat there for lunch back in the early 90s when I clerked downtown — and is only a block from the Fest. After fueling up with a hearty breakfast, we headed to the Lafayette Science Museum.
Even an hour before opening, the Fest was a buzz with activity. We had four main gaming areas — (a) dedicated Gateway gaming area and library and playtest area; (b) our FLGS’ booth (Hobby Town Lafayette) who had a well stocked store of the latest games; (c) an open gaming / demo / tourney area, and (d) Gulf Coast Gaming events area with full demos and play throughs of some of the hottest new games.
GATEWAY AND FILLER GAMES AREA:
Let’s start with the Gateway area, where we had about 15 tables set up with games anyone could play. As festival goers walked in, they could see to their right table after table already laid out with attractive games set up and ready to play. We had Ticket To Ride, Pitch Car, Camel Up, Meeple Circus, and many, many more, including a table full of two player games like Hive and Fox In The Forest. This is where you could find most of the Krewe hung out during the day, wandering around teaching newcomers to the hobby how to play each of the gateway games.
Highlights for me in this section were my plays of two new-to-me games. Meeple Circus is a family style game with some dexterity elements. Players take on the role of ring masters, recruiting acrobats and animals and special performers to put on a three act circus. Points are scored according to public information cards that have special tricks and displays. As you progress through the Acts, the tricks get harder but the points get higher.
There are plenty of lot of laugh out loud moments when the tasks call on you to do silly things like clap every time an acrobat enters the big ring, or when you have to take a bow at the end of your performance. I played with the CENLA board game group with Marshall, Jason and Bliss. All gave it thumbs up — even Jason who admitted that this was not his favorite genre of game! Next time you see her at a con, ask Melissa from the Krewe de Gumbo to show you how to play because she has this one down.
My other new-to-me game was a play of The Fox In the Forest, a two player game designed by Joshua Vuergel and published by Renegade Games. My buddy Marshall showed me how to play. I could not wrap my head around the idea of a two player trick taking game, but it works. There is a juicy tension that is not found in most trick taking games in that the best points are scored if you lose almost all of your tricks or win all of them. But if you fall short of those goals, you can really get burned in points, so there is a high risk/reward nature in the game. Fox In The Forest has beautiful yet sparse artwork, and is easy to teach especially with the handy cheat sheets included in the game.
I also played games with gamers from other parts of the state. I’ve gotten to game a few times with the Baton Rouge crew (Jesse Seidule, Melissa Seidule, and Ronald Coats) in Lafayette and at Dice Tower Con, so it was awesome seeing them again. We snuck in two back to back games near the end of the Fest. First, was a vicious game of The Flow Of History (also with Sean from Lake Charles). Wow, there was a lot of military action and sniping that went on, much more than in my first two plays. I finally won a game of Flow of History when I snuck a few science combos at the end. Okay, I would not call Flow exactly a gateway game, but it was light enough that I was able to teach it to a few groups of newcomers to the hobby and it went over well.
I talked the same group into one more game of Meeple Circus. These guys were all ringers. Sean and I had some respectable scores in the mid-forties, but Melissa, Jesse and Ronald all scored 50+ (I think Ronald ended up with 60+!). There were a lot of acrobats doing some incredible tricks in that game.
Camel Up is one of those Spiel des Jared winners that does not seem to be losing any fans. I had a group of brand newcomers to the hobby, mixed in with Travis from the BR crew, Phillip & Andrea from the Acadiana krewe, and Marshall from the Cenla group.
This was one of the craziest Camel Up games I’ve ever played (and I’ve probably played it 20+ times). The camels constantly defied the odds, players that placed the oasis tiles were constantly getting money from camels landing on their spots, and almost no one guessed the winner or loser.
Plus, every one was really into the spirit of the game. One of the best experiences at Camel Up ever. Can’t wait for the new edition to once and for all settle the name of the game!
The Gateway and Filler Games area was packed all day. We saw lots of people enjoying the two player area, and learning the games, which John specially chose for their visual appeal and easy rule sets. Thanks to Lindsay Wilmore who took these beautiful shots:
We also had about eight open tables on either side of the room, and it was nice to see veteran gamers take those tables but invite other people in the area to join them in the bigger games. In other words, Southern Board Game Fest was not just a place for a game group to come and play their own games together — instead, we saw lots of tables putting up “players wanted” signs or just grabbing random people to play games. Building that sense of community among the various game groups was important to me, not only to let people know that there are others nearby that share their passion for this hobby, but also because we anticipated that there would be players at the Fest who came by themselves. It was awesome to see that those solo gamers did not take long to be accepted into a group, and play and learn some new games.
We did our part: I saw Bryan helping some gamers with Dead of Winter, Kyle teaching Dinosaur Island, Rosemary and Erik teaching various card games, Alex teaching Splendor, and Dave teaching Ethnos and Mystic Vale. This was just a sample of the games we taught!
I was also happy to see the play test area going great. Jeremy and Clay from AgDR Games were there testing out their new game on Kickstarter, Face Off Duels. Jeremy told me they got some great feedback and publicity for the game, which is a two player card game fight between various factions. Sterling Birdwell and his brother Eric were also there with a big prototype of a game they are working on, and although quiet in the morning, they had playtesters all afternoon which was good to see.
Next year: maybe a mini UnPub for all of our local designers to get play tests and feedback?? Time will tell…
DEMO AND TOURNEY AREA:
On the other side of the Festival, we had dozens of tables set up with various demos and tourneys going on all day. Gamers could pre-register for the different events, and they sold out every event before the Fest started. We had a few Gumbo Krewe members in that room, too, teaching Dinosaur Island or Ethnos to a hungry group of gamers. We even had some of the krewe enter the tourneys like the Splendor tournament. The winners all were given gift certificates to Hobby Town Lafayette — which I saw used right away.
The area seemed to be running smoothly after some initial delays caused by a torrential downpour that struck the city just prior to the festival started. (Unlike other Louisiana festivals, our show went on without a hitch even with the bad weather!)
OPEN GAMING AREA:
We had two main areas, the aforementioned tables in the Gateway area, but also a host of tables in the Demo area that were dedicated to open gaming. I saw so many games being played in this area!
I did get to visit with some gamers trying out Fate of the Elder Gods on my break from the Gateway area, and also got to a watch a play of Agricola and Scythe, two games I love.
Tasty Minstrel Games just delivered my Kickstarter Deluxified edition of The Flow of History, and I had an awesome time teaching and playing that one with two different groups. On other tables, it looks like Ethnos is still a hot game, along with Legendary, and gamers checked out Dinosaur Island out of the Library all day.
One of the best memories was touching base again with the Slidell crew from the northshore New Orleans area. Jason, Derek, and their friend Nick were gaming madmen (just like at GEN CON!) They were there early, grabbed a table, and played non-stop until they left around 7:30 PM. The only time I saw them break was to get up to go to the library to check out more games!
I did not get to play with them, but I did grab some lunch (thanks Jason & Derek!) and helped with the Scythe teach — and helped them get a sneak game of Dinosaur Island in with an assist from Kyle from the Krewe de Gumbo! See you guys at GEN CON in August if not before.
GULF COAST GAMING EVENTS:
Steve and Robert from Gulf Coast Gaming have an amazing board game library, but unfortunately, we did not have the space to fit their massive amount of games.
That did not stop Steve and Robert from helping out the Fest bringing a bunch of new games like Sparkle Kitty and Munchkin CCG and Tak and Thunderstone Quest, Favor Of The Pharoah (and many more), and their booth area was jam packed all day.
It was great hanging out with those guys again, and I look forward to seeing them again at GEN CON and at Louisiana Comic Con this fall. If you have a Con and need a humongous library with games that will be attractive to newcomers and veterans alike, you need to talk to Steve.
After twelve straight hours of demoing games, answering questions, slapping hands, and playing games, the Southern Board Game Festival unfortunately came to a close. In the end, we got to hang out with gamers from up and down Interstate 10 and 49, from Lake Charles to Alexandria, from Lafayette to Baton Rouge and New Orleans/Northshore and Hattiesburg and Gulfport and everywhere in between!
I was sad to see the Festival come to a close, but happy to hear from everyone that they loved the idea of a dedicated board game festival right in the middle of the state.
Next year? We hope to grow this even bigger, maybe even expand into multiple days!
There are some kinks to work out:
- we need a better sound system for the infrequent announcements;
- Even more demos / tourneys if we are going to get bigger;
- Bigger gaming library;
- Larger gaming space (again if we are getting bigger);
- and of course, last but not least — GUMBO AFTERPARTY
But despite the very few glitches, most of them weather related, I have to give big kudos to John, Ross, Aaron, Sagan, Liz, Makaela, and the rest of the Southern Board Game Fest committee for putting on one heck of a stupendous event.
Can’t wait to go to next year’s Fest! Until then, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!