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Congress of Gamers 2024

Meeple Mountain visits The Congress of Gamers 2024 – a small board game convention in Rockville, Maryland.

I recently moved from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Of the many things that changed as a result of this move is the fact that I no longer had local access to some of the local gaming events like ICON, a sci-fi and fantasy convention. Fortunately, a few of my colleagues here at Meeple Mountain were keen on the Congress of Gamers, a board game convention being held about 45 minutes from where I live.

Preparation

My youngest and I left home on Saturday morning early enough to give us time to stop for breakfast. We went to a nearby IHOP before we headed over to the former school/senior center where the event was being held.

My youngest and I at an International House of Pancakes, prior to going to the con. One of the banks that was within walking distance.

When we arrived, I discovered that this was a cash-only event. I have looked over the website and still cannot find where this is mentioned. Still, there were a couple of banks with 24 Hour ATMs within walking distance. Plus, while we were walking to and from the bank, this gave us an opportunity to discover that a children’s fundraiser was taking place—trust me when I say we were giving them money for the kids; it had nothing to do with the box of delicious cookies that came with the donation. 😀

Armed with cash, my daughter and I purchased our weekend passes and began our convention weekend.

Registration desk; some of the flyers and stuff at the table nearby; one of the open gaming rooms.

Saturday

According to Mr. Eric Engelmann, the event’s organizer, Saturday is always the busiest day in a two-day, weekend con. The biggest draw isn’t the tournament games or the open gaming, it is the sales room. I have been to some large cons and some very small local events. For a small con, the sales room was impressive. There were some big ticket items that were being sold off rather quickly, which I found interesting since the way this con runs things, as the day progresses, the prices of the items would go down. Each item had three prices: early, mid, and late. Although there were some giant lots of huge Kickstarter games that did not get sold, I was rather surprised to see people with huge hauls that required the aid of a service cart or two in order to get the games to their cars.

A few shots of the sales room.

My daughter and I picked up a few items at the early part of the sale, and a couple more at the late. In the end, we spent about $140 on ten different items. The biggest thing we got was a copy of Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City, a gift for my older child’s birthday this month, for $30. My son is a Batman fanatic, and so this was perfect and at a great price—the going rate for this game on BoardGameGeek and other outlets is anywhere from $90 to $200.

The open gaming was very good. Lots of games in the convention library available for use, as well as rooms for playing games that are still in playtesting or playing with various game designers. I managed to have the bad luck of always heading to the room for playing with game designers just as everyone was leaving or before anyone arrived for the next sessions. That said, the convention-goers were all enthusiastic and welcoming, so we got in a lot of gaming.

One individual that we ran into was a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

I was in one of the open gaming rooms when I walked by a table where Logic & Lore was being played. I told them that I wrote a review of that game and interviewed the creators and asked if they had backed the Kickstarter. That is when Carla Kopp opened up her jacket and let me know that I was speaking to some of the wonderful people of Weird Giraffe Games. I can neither confirm nor deny that I immediately went into fanboy mode, but what I can say is that I had a nice chat with some lovely people and that I recommend you go over to their site and pick up some great games. Tell them that geek from Meeple Mountain sent you.

The wonderfully weird people of Weird Giraffe Games. Star Wars shirts were all the rage, as the event started on Star Wars day.

My daughter and I had some fun with games like Hive, The Mind, Tsuro, and Splendor—pretty much anything my daughter wanted to play. If a game accommodates more than two players, it was no trouble locating a new friend to join in: just look around the room for anyone who is looking around the room and ask them if they want to join. Easy peasy.

After some open gaming, we decided to try one of the tournament games. I wanted to join in on the Azul tournament, but my daughter is a fan of Ticket to Ride, so that is where we went (since we were in the tournament and there is a time-limit, I did not get a good opportunity to take pictures of that game; sorry). In the four player game we were in, my daughter and I finished third and fourth, but we had a great time! The guy who won that game ended up placing 2nd overall in the tournament (he was playing in several of the tournaments; he won or placed high enough in those to come out second overall). If you are going to lose, I say lose to someone who is obviously very, very good. It makes the sting easier to deal with. 🙂

A very small sampling of the people and games available to play.

There was a game of Mega Empires set off to the side (it needed a lot of room) that really excited me. This is a reimagining of Civilization and Advanced Civilization expanded to the brim. Back in my youth, I was a huge fan of those original games and would play them a lot. I remember how excited I was when W. Eric Martin of BoardGameGeek did a geeklist honoring Jennifer Schickbernd and her work on Advanced Civilization and others. So when I encountered a table that was playing this behemoth with what appeared to be a full complement of 18 players, I was blown away.

Some of the people enjoying an epic game!

I took the photo, but it does not do this game justice. The game was set up on a stage. The board was on one (very large) table, but even so, not all of the players could sit around it at the same time. Two other (large) tables held tokens and cards that players would have to walk over to get as needed. Another table was for the game judge who kept track of each turn and arbitrated any rules disputes.

This game is epic!

I spoke with a couple of the players and they tended toward the idea that they love the game, but there was no way they would ever own a copy. The idea of trying to set up this game for a dozen or more people in their home for several hours of giant, epic gaming was just not something they wanted to contemplate. I agree. But, at a con? Oh yea! This game is perfect. I wish I had managed to get into this. Civilization is a classic. Perhaps next year…

Anyway, my daughter and I had a perfect Saturday! We played a lot of games, met a lot of wonderful people, and had a great time. We headed home and talked about what we might want to do on Sunday.

Sunday

When I started this article, I said that my family and I had recently moved to Maryland. This means that all of my daughter’s friends are in Iowa. So, when we got home Saturday, she stayed up all night with her friends online and was dead to the world when I got up Sunday morning. She stayed in bed. I was flying solo.

At the end of the day Saturday, I spoke with Mr. Engelmann, and he told me of the rummage sale that takes place Sunday morning. The rummage sale is where tables filled with game bits are offered up for sale. He gets these in various game collections, and sometimes people donate them. When I got up Sunday morning, I went through all of my excess bits and put together a donation for the rummage sale. When I got there, it was just as he had described it.

The rummage sale — I have to wonder why I have never seen something like this before. A great idea.

We talked about why he does this. The idea is that Sunday has less going on (considering that the main game sale was on Saturday and most everything will have been picked over). This is not a big con where companies send representatives with their latest offerings. Thus, Sunday becomes a day where you can come in and look for replacement parts you are missing. Or find bits for a game you’re designing. Or look for upgrades for a favorite game. Everything from loose meeples and wooden cubes to dice to whole sets of replacement tiles for Ra were available to whomever needed them at a very reasonable price.

A sampling of the services and help Congress of Gamers provides.

Without my partner, I continued to look around and spent a lot of time in the open gaming areas. I got to play some of the games I have not gotten a chance to play in the past, including Wonderland’s War, Thunder Road: Vendetta, and A Feast for Odin.

By the time I had completed the bigger games in that list (with the teach, Wonderland’s War ran three hours, and A Feast for Odin ran four), the con was wrapping up. I said good-bye to the people I had been playing with, went over and thanked Mr. and Mrs. Engelmann and assured them that I would be back next year (hopefully with my daughter and my better half). If you find yourself in the Washington DC area in the spring, there is just no reason not to go to Congress of Gamers.

Eric Engelmann

Before I sign off, I want to spend a moment to inform you about Eric Engelmann. Mr. Engelmann runs this con with the help of his wife (she calls herself the ‘slave labor’). This was a fun, local event, and when I arrived I had some time to talk with him about running a convention. It turns out that he has written a lot about what it takes to run such an event, all in an effort to help others who want to do the same. Given how smoothly this con ran over the weekend, I would say that this is a man to whom you want to listen. The sidebar of the convention’s main site has a lot of useful links if you are thinking about running such an event. From a manual on how to host such an event, to advice on buying games and game collections.

While I was there, he was kind enough to show me a system he had developed to handle the sales room. This spreadsheet-driven system was quite slick and ensured that customers could bring their stuff to the table, get it logged as having been sold, get their total, collect their money, and keep track of what funds needed to go to which sellers at the end of the con. All very quickly and efficiently. I was in the salesroom several times and, despite a good number of people buying things, never saw anyone have to wait in line for more than a few minutes. Like I said, the operation of this event was outstanding.

About the author

K. David Ladage

Avid board gamer, role-player, and poet; software and database engineer. I publish some things under the imprint ZiLa Games. Very happy to be here.

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