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The Board Gamer’s Guide to Board Game Conventions header

The board gaming hobby can be quite overwhelming for a newly budding board game geek. With thousands of new games coming out each year, it can certainly be hard to jump in head first. Maybe you’ve started your own gaming community, but you want an opportunity to meet even more gamers? Maybe you’ve started to build up a collection, but you want to get to try some of the new hot games before they come out? Checking out a board game convention might be the next best step for you!

If you’re still trying to get a grasp of the hobby, that’s totally fine as well! Go ahead and check out our previous article, So you like board games… What now?, before jumping head first into the convention scene.

If you are ready to take this next step, read on! It’s the perfect time to jump aboard since we are just kicking off convention season!

What is a board game convention anyway?

Origins 2017 - Renegade Games booth

Origins 2017 – Renegade Games booth

Board game conventions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small intimate gatherings where people marathon through games, and some are weeklong events with large dealer halls and lots of gaming events. We’ll mostly be talking about larger conventions, but before we jump in too deep, let’s take a look at what the difference is.

Small Con vs. Large Con

For the most part, gaming conventions can be put into two categories: either small conventions or large conventions. Of course, small and large can mean different things to all people, so we’ll try to distinguish that a little more.

Small/Local Conventions

Small conventions are often also called “Local Conventions.” The reason for this is that most of them simply attract a local crowd instead of drawing people in from all over the country. These conventions usually host anywhere from 200 – 5,000 attendees. Usually, they are more focused on bringing people together just to play games and often lack an exhibitor hall.

CMON Expo 2017

CMON Expo 2017

Personally, I love these kinds of conventions. With their small size, you often feel like you get to know a lot more people, especially if you come back year after year. We have a local convention called Tennessee Game Days that has grown to about 700-800 people over the years. Now that I’ve been coming for the past few, there are so many familiar faces. I even have friends in other states whom I only get to see at the convention each year. The small intimate feel is a huge perk to these local cons.

Large Conventions

The big conventions are always huge, vibrant, and exciting events. These can be hard to categorize because their attendences are so high in variance, but usually they host between 15,000 all the way up to 200,000 people. Most conventions that break the 15k mark of attendance will have a large dealer hall where you can buy games directly from the publishers and large event halls where you can sign up to play specific games or in tournaments. There is often not an emphasis on just playing games all day, and instead are focused on the shopping aspects, events, panels, etc. Large conventions can be quite overwhelming, so hopefully this article will help you understand them!

Gen Con 2016

Gen Con 2016

Why should I go to a board game convention?

There are lots of great reasons to go to a convention! Everyone gets something different out of their experiences, but here are some prominent reasons that a board game convention might interest you.

You want to:

  • play a lot of games.
  • try the hot new games before they are released.
  • meet your favorite designers, authors, artists, publishers, or media personalities.
  • compete in large gaming tournaments.
  • find really cool stuff to buy and take home.
  • survey lots of different board games from different publishers to find something new that you might like.
  • meet other gamers with similar interests.
  • hear talks and panels about topics in the industry that interest you.
  • get ahold of exclusive promotional cards/pieces/expansions for your favorite games.

If any of those interest you, then giving a gaming convention a shot might be right up your alley! In all honesty, there is so much more to do at conventions, but these are a few of the cool things that really stand out.

Ok! I want to go! Now what?!

Good question! The first thing you’ll need to do is decide on whether you want to go to a smaller or larger convention. For many people, location will be a big factor in this decision, while others may be willing to travel long distances. Let’s take a look at some of the options available. Most of these will be “large” conventions, but there are some smaller ones that squeak through based on popularity.

Most Popular Board Game Conventions

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of gaming conventions. (Here’s a global list of board game conventions if you are looking for one!) There are hundreds of game conventions each year, just in America, so it would be quite difficult to cover them all. The selections below are all either significant because of their pure size or following. Some may be “smaller” conventions, but they are still very prevalent in the board game industry or even run by a large publisher or media outlet.

Small to Medium Conventions

BGG Con
BGG CON (& BGG SPRING)
Dallas, TX

CMON Expo
CMON Expo
Atlanta, GA

UK Games Expo Expo
UK Games Expo
Birmingham, UK
~16,500 attendees

Dice Tower Con
Dice Tower Con
Orlando, FL

Large Conventions

Origins Game Fair
Origins Game Fair
Columbus, OH
~17,000 attendees

Gen Con
Gen Con
Indianapolis, Indiana
~60,000 attendees

Essen Spiel
Essen Spiel
Essen, Germany
~174,000

Pax Unplugged
PAX Unplugged
Philadelphia, PA

I’ve picked a convention, how do I prepare for it?

Buy your badge

Gen Con badge

First things first, you’ve got to purchase a badge. Some conventions only last a day or two and only have one badge option, while others will allow for you to purchase a badge for individual days or just the weekend. Since most conventions run through both weekdays and weekends, you’ll need to decide what works best for your schedule. Purchasing a badge is usually simple and can either be done online or at the door. Be careful, though! Many conventions sell out ahead of time!

Find housing

Find housing

We got lucky with a beautiful airBnB at Gen Con in 2016!

Housing can be one of the most frustrating parts of prepping for a gaming convention. Each con is a little different, but most are infamous for making this a true pain. If you buy your badge as early as possible, you should receive some sort of communication before the hotel sales go live. This can be a tricky process as some will have a “queue” system and others will have a “whoever can get through” set up. Either way, for larger conventions these websites will often become bottlenecked and crash. Honestly, there is often just a lot of luck here. Make sure you’re online the second they go live!

If you aren’t interested in a hotel or you weren’t able to get one, there are still lots of other options! I’ve used airBnB a couple times for this and it has worked wonderfully. You might have to walk a bit farther or drive to the convention center, but you also might save some money and stress, so it’s often worth it for many people.

Register for events

Giant King of Tokyo at Gen Con 2016.

Each convention will have a long list of events that you can attend. These can range from talks/panels, gaming tournaments, game demos, and more. Some events will cost while others will be free. Most conventions open their events up to pre-registrations and many events fill up. Each convention website should have a portal that you can log into to find and register for each event. If you miss out on registering in advance, sometimes you can still make it into them, though! Most large conventions will offer “generic tickets” that you can purchase and spend for events. If it isn’t full, you should be able to spend these “generics” to jump in. If a “full” doesn’t have all of its registered attendees, you might be able to jump in with generics as well!

Make a plan of attack

The convention floor can be overwhelming! With so many booths to stop in and so many new games to try, it’s easy to see why you could get lost in the mix. To help ease this sensory overload, it can be helpful to have a plan before you even begin your travels to the convention. There are two things that can help with this: making sure you know which games you are interested in up front and preparing your path in the expo hall.

It can be hard to keep up with all of the games coming out each year, especially with so much going on during the convention season. One of the best ways to keep an eye out on new releases during the major conventions is through the Boardgame Geek Preview lists. Board Game Geek usually releases their preview geeklist a month or two in advance of each major convention. These lists have all of upcoming convention releases and their information listed in order by publisher. This is a great resource to scope out the games that really interest you the most. Be careful, though, as you don’t want to miss out on a game that you didn’t expect to enjoy by counting it out ahead of time!

2017 Gen Con Preview List

Once you’ve found the games you are most interested, you can either register for demo events or seek them out in the exhibit hall. The advantage to demoing games in the hall is that you usually will only play a quick demo to get a feel for them. Of course, if you want to play a full game or don’t want to wait in a line, events might be better for you. If you do chose the path of the exhibit hall, it can be a huge help to familiarize yourself with where booths you want to visit are actually located. Most conventions will post a map of the exhibit hall ahead of time, and you can even print it out to highlight and draw the most efficient path for you!

2017 Gen Con Exhibit Hall Map

One more thing to keep in mind is that sometimes it can be important to prioritize the “hot” booths first. Every year there are certain games that everyone knows will sell out quickly. If you want those games, you’ll need to make sure that they are your first stops! This can be hard to tell sometimes, but keeping an eye on the comments of the preview lists can help you gauge people’s interest.

Pack accordingly

My pre Gen Con shopping trip from 2016

My pre Gen Con shopping trip from 2016

So, what do you bring to a convention? Well, outside of the obvious answer of clothes, there are some things that I’ve found helpful to have on you.

  • Hand sanitizer. Seriously. The “con crud” is real and you don’t want to mess with that! Think about it, tens of thousands of people in one room does not lead to good sanitation.
  • Snacks. Cliff bars, trail mix, crackers. Whatever you need, make sure to keep some snacks on hand to keep yourself energized.
  • Water bottle. Similar to the snacks, you’re going to want to keep hydrated to stay healthy.
  • Battery chargers. My phone always seems to die twice as fast during conventions. The last thing you want is to not have a way to find your friends in the midst of tens of thousands of people!
  • Games. Ok, I’ve overdone this too many times. In my experience, it isn’t worth bringing big box games unless you have a specific plan to play them. Instead, I always make sure that I have a couple small card games in my bag for those times where you’re stuck in a line or waiting on something to start.

Conclusion

I know this process can be quite stressful, but hopefully this gives a little bit of direction for your journey to your first convention! Do you have any other tips or tricks? Make sure to let us know in the comments below!


What do you think about The Board Gamer’s Guide to Board Game Conventions? Give us your opinions in the comments below!

         

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Elijah Longwell

Elijah Longwell

Recruiter by day, board game enthusiast by night. Despite controversy, i’m a firm believer that collecting can be just as fun as playing games. My favorite aspect of the board gaming hobby is its ability to bring people together in a meaningful way.

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