MACE West 2018 Gaming Coordinator Report

The 8th annual MACE West has come and gone.  I keep telling people that they need to stop having so much fun at these things because we have to quit at some point.  I am not doing this until I am 60 (I turn 50 next year).  MACE West turned 8 this year which means we are 2 years from 10.  That even closer to 25 for MACE.  This is mind boggling because I had no idea we would last this long.  MACE West this year was much like last year.  Some remained the same while some evolved and changed with the community. Every year, we try to adjust based on what happened the previous year, and sometimes it works while other times, it doesn’t.  This year was no different.

The biggest difference was the time change.  And I am not just talking about Daylight savings time.  We moved MACE West 2 weeks earlier in March, mostly because it kept landing on my anniversary.  While some folks may not celebrate that after 15 years of marriage, if you knew my wife and the struggles we went through, you would understand why we do.   We just about had to move Heaven and Earth for this to happen however.  Other conventions – namely ShushCon and CafCon – agreed to move their dates around so that MACE West could happen on the weekend we chose.  Thanks to them and the overall community for their willingness to work with us.

In terms the games and events on the schedule, it was right around the same as last year, maybe a little down. Fewer miniature game events, more scheduled board games and demos.  I was struggling to get enough RPGs but some new and old friends stepped up to fill some slots.  I was reasonably pleased by the week before the convention.  Although we did not have any major tournaments aside from the X-Wing event, I was happy where things were.  One of the best things about the schedule was that we went from 4 Savage Worlds games on SSN to 7.  I was very happy with that.

In terms of turn out, I was also happy with most everything.  Organized play seem to struggle.  The X-Wing events were a slight disappointment.  But outside of that, every thing else was pretty busy. Once again, the weekend was a blur to me.  2 out of three games of mine made and I had a blast with both of them.  Most of the games on the schedule made and there were also many pick-up games where they could find room.  The few disappointments were mostly tables that did not make because players did not show.  Either they could not make the convention last minute or they were doing something else.  There were not a lot of those but some.

We did not have many big events, however.  One X-Wing tournament that had 6 people.  So we can safely label it the KISS weekend.  We kept it simple.  Just games.  Scheduled, pick-up and anything in between.  I allocated certain tables as open games as well as open demos, and those stayed busy all weekend.  I gave more scheduled board games round tables and those stayed busy.  Burghley A, where I used to have Warmachine and other miniatures, was redesigned to have more board games on rounds.  That room was loud which to me means it was busy.

The two major complaints I got were (1) all the games are full and (2) the rooms are too loud.  My answer for #1 is either get your registration in earlier or run games yourself.  Those are the only two ways to guarantee you will have a game.  My answer to #2 is not as simple.  It’s the GMs and the players that are making the noise.  Jeff and I talked about ways we can help with that but in the end, the GM and the players have to police themselves.

From a numbers perspective, this year very much felt like last year.  I don’t know the true numbers yet but it felt close to what it was last year.  We took even further steps to manage the pick up games and balance that with the scheduled games. I think it was even more successful than last year.  I was very pleased with the board game room, no small thanks to James Doster and No Ordinary Gamers.  Many thanks to the Asheville Historical Wargamers for all their hard work and very cool events.  Thanks to Double Exposure Envoys for the play to win games and all the great demos by Jessica Paxton.

A little story that started at the end of MACE West and has continued on this week…

While I was packing up, a guy comes up to me and says “Are you Ron or Jeff?” Apparently someone told him to look for us. I told him who I was and he identified himself as a Firefighter and a Make a Wish volunteer. He just so happened to be staying in the hotel for another reason and saw us packing up.  He thought we could help with a dilemma. He represents a child who has placed a Wish to make something in HermitCraft which is apparently a Minecraft server.

I know Minecraft only through my son, who plays it like a mad-man. But I know a millennial at work that might know more. He gave me his card. Adam Howard is the guy I know and he was kind enough to contact this volunteer. Apparently the Hermitcraft server is a big Youtuber server for Minecraft and all this kid wants is to build something on that server.

Adam has contacted those Youtuber on that server and I am hoping that this will go viral from there. I am going to update this group as things develop but this could only happen because of MACE West and the kindness of both tabletop and computer gamers!

Other highlights for me included the folks from Smart Iguana Games demoing Gravity Warfare, gaming with DM Scotty and his family, a damn good game of Star Trek Ascendancy, and the laid back weekend of good gaming for everyone.  Thanks to all the GMs that made it special, and those that stepped out to fill various slots that needed to be filled.  I only have 3 GMs cancel and those were easily managed because of good people.

Thanks to Jeff, his family and friends for all the work they do.  Thanks to all the GMs for their hard work and dedication to our event.  Thanks to James Becker, Michael Tracey, Bill Boivin and Tim McCrary for their hard work in organized play.  Thanks to industry pros Clint Black, Robert Hudson and Mike Yow for attending and gaming with us. MACE West is one of my favorite events to do every year.  It is just the right size that I have a lot of fun with little to no stress.  The community is very welcoming and it doesn’t hurt that the mountain views are astounding.

Thanks again for everyone and I hope to see everyone back for MACE West 2019 as well as MACE  2018 in November!

 

 

 

MACE West 2017 Gaming Coordinator Report

The 7th annual MACE West has come and gone.  When we started it, I would have never imagined it lasting this long.  But we definitely found a great home and we have had a lot of fun with it.  While much of MACE West has remained the same, it also has evolved and changed with the community. Every year, we try to adjust based on what happened the previous year, and sometimes it works while other times, it doesn’t.  This year was no different.

In terms of number and types of events, the schedule was right around the same as last year.  I was quite pleased by the end of February, early March when I felt the schedule was complete.  We had a full boat of RPGs, board games, miniature games and everything else in between.  Warmachine/Hordes and X-Wing were back.  Both did well last year but we were up against another event hosting a Warmachine tournament this year, so I was concerned.  New on the schedule was something we tried at MACE – HeroClix ROC tournament qualifier.  I had to move that to Sunday because of both the other minis events, so that seemed like a risk.  We also paid for a Settlers of Catan national qualifier, which again was a risk but worth it.

Disappointing from the schedule’s perspective was there was only 4 games of Savage Worlds for Savage Saturday Night, when we usually have 8.  We still had a full weekend of Savage Worlds with at least 3 per slot but I like to have a full room of Savage Worlds on Saturday night.  Other games filled those tables, which was fine but it would have been nice to have all Savage Worlds.

Both Pathfinder Society and D&D Adventurers League (collectively called Organized Play) seemed to do very well.  Every time I want back there, more than 2/3s of their tables were full.

The weekend was a blur to me.  All my games made and were really fun.  Most of the games on the schedule made and there were also many pick-up games where they could find room.  There were not many disappointments as I walked through the game rooms each day.  The Friday night X-Wing had a great turnout thanks to Casey Waters.

Despite the competing event being cancelled (the day of MACE West Registration closing), the Warmachine/Hordes was one of those disappointments.  I was just a difficult situation for the organizer and it did not turn out the way we wanted it.  The Settlers of Catan tournament was reasonably successful but it was disappointing in that we did not get at least 12 players.  In the end, the winner will have a chance to go to Origins to play in the Nationals, partially on JustUs’s dime.  Good luck to the winner.

The Heroclix tournament was the big surprise.  Sunday was quite busy and the organizer told me that if we moved it to Saturday, we would have a larger turnout.  So that’s something to consider for next year.  Thanks Jesse for running that event.  New also to MACE West was the Tesseractive  who hosted live action demos of their combat system and sold boffer weapons in the Atrium.  They were a highlight of many on Saturday as they seemed to stay quite busy.  Thanks to Ryan for coming out and showing us their stuff.

From a numbers perspective, this year very much felt like last year.  I don’t know the true numbers yet but it felt close to what it was last year.  We finally found a way to manage the pick up games and balance that with the scheduled games.  I was very pleased with the board game room, no small thanks to James Doster and No Ordinary Gamers.  Many thanks to the Asheville Historical Wargamers for all their hard work and very cool events.  Thanks to Double Exposure Envoys for the play to win games and all the great demos by Kevin Berent.  Highlight of the weekend was Jeff meeting DM Scotty’s daughter and making a connection there.

There were only a few glitches and those all can be written up to data entry mistakes made by me.  I am getting more and more comfortable with my system but at the same time, people have to start taking ownership of their own schedule. When you are done with it, print it out.  Or at least have the PDF on your phone or tablet.  Onsite registration will not go away and neither will the posters, but we can only do so much.  At the same time, the wireless at the hotel was not the best and I know that made it difficult for people.

Thanks to Jeff, his family and friends for all the work they do.  Thanks to all the GMs for their hard work and dedication to our event.  Thanks to James Becker, Michael Tracey, Bill Boivin and Tim McCrary for their hard work in organized play.  Thanks to industry pros Clint Black, Robert Hudson and John Watts for attending and gaming with us. MACE West is one of my favorite events to do every year, if not THE favorite.  It is just the right size that I have a lot of fun with little to no stress.  The community is very welcoming and it doesn’t hurt that the mountain views are astounding.

Thanks again for everyone and I hope to see everyone back for MACE West 2018 as well as MACE in November!

 

 

 

SCARAB 2015 – Columbia, SC

After a long hiatus from gaming conventions I managed to attend the SCARAB gaming convention in Columbia, SC for the Saturday sessions last year. See my review of last year’s convention here: http://thegamerscodex.com/index.php/scarab-2014/

This year I once again ventured down for Saturday. Again, registration online was easy. Last year I was told that all game registration was done on the Warhorn website. Knowing this ahead of time made it easy to schedule games, and I even managed to get into a game with people I knew from the local gaming group.

From the greater Rock Hill area it is an easy drive to the convention. Having attended last year I knew where to turn off to get to the Medallion center where the convention is held. The sun is right in your eyes as you turn off the highway. If you attend in the future, beware of that. It’s not far off I-77 at all. Turn right just past the Waffle House and you’ll be good.

This year I arrived about 15 minutes early. The doors were open and no one was in line at the registration desk. The very pleasant young lady looked through a box full of badges and found mine easily. No wristbands or looking up names on a phone this year. Looking around the desk I did not see anything resembling a program. Not a huge deal. It is mostly a gaming only convention. I was on my way towards the gaming room with time to spare.

I was there to play a few Pathfinder Society games. Once again PFS seems to be their most popular attraction. The PFS games were in the larger room just to the right of the lobby. Last year the tabletop wargames were in the large room and the PFS games were in the back room. This room is not square shaped and sound did not seem to resonate as much as it did in the other room last year. The tables were spaced out a little more. There was room to get past pretty much any table. Only when people were sitting very far from the table or had large bags or boxes behind their chair were there any issues. I looked for familiar faces to find my table. Once I found them I was pointed to the helpful poster on the wall with a list of scenarios and table numbers. I have to admit that was probably on the wall last year and I just never saw it.

My first session was a mid level scenario with two players from the group I occasionally play with in Fort Mill. It was a fun and challenging game. We finished a few minutes early as SCARAB has five-hour slots for the PFS games. A group went out for lunch so I did not partake in the in house food. I did see several people who did and the food looked and smelled good. I did purchase a drink and snack there. The prices were the same as last year. Not bad for convention food at all. They had a nice mix of water, sodas, coffee, snacks, candy bars, cookies and more.

Back before the second slot, I took a tour of the convention center. One room held the kids track. I walked by it a few times and it seemed to be relatively calm and managed nicely. One large room held general gaming and the vendors. Several game store vendors were selling their wares along with a jeweler and the fun people from Geek Forge. The next large room held RPG tables and the wargame tables. As last year there was a lot of gorgeous terrain. I watched a few minutes of a game or two. I have to admit to being an ex-40K player who enjoys watching the extreme opposite battle of Tau versus Tyranids. This room was probably ¾ full all day. Walking past the lobby and across from the PFS room, there was a room for Anime and video games. The several times I walked by some group games were being played  – DDR, rock band type games and such. Around the start time of the last slot of the day a costume contest was held in this room. I saw around 10 contestants and some pretty darn good costumes. I checked their site to see who the winner was. I hope it was the young lady who came dressed as ‘Mother of Dragons.” Her Game of Thrones inspired costume was wonderfully accessorized by her two daughters dressed as dragons. The back room (where PFS was last year) held the LARP games. I saw maybe six to ten people here off and on all day. At either end of the building were the bathrooms. I did notice that the bathrooms and trashcans were cleaned more than once during the day.

My second session was with a bunch of people I did not know, but that’s part of the experience. A low level PFS game this time, lots of fun. The gamemaster really got into character with his NPC’s and obviously enjoys doing so. Once again the session ended early. I walked to an outside establishment for dinner. When I came back I saw several people with what looked and smelled like delicious Chinese food from the concession area.

For the last slot I decided to not venture into the PFS special. I did witness the muster and it seemed to go better than last years. Apparently the decision was made kind of last minute to move the other PFS games into other gaming areas. We were sent to the general RPG room but had no trouble finding a table. It was another great game, a good scenario with fun players. The last slot started at 8:00 and we were done a little after 11:00. I looked into the main room and it appeared that the special was still in full swing.

Compared to last year the few scheduling and management issues I noticed were pretty much cleared up. For the price it is definitely a fun gaming convention. If you are near Columbia, SC and are into PFS, look them up. Even if you are not, it looked like quite a few other games made their tables. Maybe next year I’ll go for more than one day…

MACE 2014 Gaming Coordinator Report: From the trenches!

It takes a lot for me to sit down and write about MACE after it is over.  I invest so much time, emotion, and work into it that when it is over, I really go through something like postpartum.  But writing about it helps with that in some ways, and the sooner I do it the more I can recall.  This year was tough – probably one of the hardest years – and my fatigue has lasted longer than ever before.  But I am going to make an effort just to get it down before things are less fresh in my mind.

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The months before MACE were a whirlwind of drama, excitement and anticipation.  Stores and groups were coming to us wanting to run large events beyond what we already had scheduled.  The hotel came to us early in the year with a new challenge that we had to wrestle with involving a football team using some of our space (and I feel we managed it successfully).  Drama surrounding the Pathfinder Society coordinator really dragged me down for a few weeks until we finally found someone to run it. We continued throughout the year to find DMs for PFS.  On top of that, I took on a new challenge with D&D Adventurer’s League.  With the release of 5th edition D&D, I had to dive into an area I had never done – organized play – and put together an acceptable D&D Adventurer’s League schedule that would attract folks.  The learning curve was challenging, but I had help from various people including Kris Morris from Heroes Headquarters in Mocksville, NC, Ryan Jackson of Above Board Games in Fort Mill, SC and Michael Long, gaming blogger and all around good guy from Knoxville, TN.

On top of that, we were approached by 3 different people about major tournament events at MACE – Mage Wars, Heroclix, and Legends of the 5 Rings.  All were legitimate proposals and I was encouraged by the people organizing them.  Following these, the fine people at Comic Monstore approached us with a desire to run our Magic tournaments.  All this indicated a lot of faith and passion about MACE, more than I think I have ever seen before.  Thanks to Ben Burton, Adam McLaughlin, Jesse Blanchard, Terry Corbett, Ray Franks, and Lyle Dixon for all their hard work.  Not all the events were successful but more on that later.

Going into this year, after all that had happened prior, I felt that MACE was growing into the next level.  A lot of the same gaming events were coming back and many new ones were either building on the old or sprouting up new.  For me, it was almost turning into real work.  Managing the space we had, a larger list of GMs and volunteers and also recoding OGRe over and over again to meet the needs of our customers – it really is almost a second job now.

I felt the energy coming into October.  Personally, I was getting more and more into 5th edition D&D and apparently so were a lot of other people, as I got a ton of emails asking about the Adventurer’s League.  I was very encouraged by the size of the schedule as it grew week by week.  The emails I was getting from new attendees was unprecedented.  Even after receiving the standard array of cancellations, I still felt pretty upbeat about how things were going to go.  Real life tried its best to drag me down but I kept things separate and contained enough.

Going into the weekend, my biggest concern was how I laid out the space and how well it would be utilized.  The hardest part about this aspect was dealing with the football team Friday night and Saturday morning.  There was talk early in the year about launching a new aspect of the con for cosplayers and somehow tying all that into the gaming, but as I suspected that went nowhere.  No offense to those that were heading it up, I just knew it wasn’t a good mix.  At the same time, I assumed we were still going to have the live auction, just at a different time.  All that changed by the time we got the last couple of weeks, and the space utilization was not what it could have been.

The entire weekend was a massive blur to me.  Once the doors opened and people were playing games, everything else did not matter.  When things get started, there are very few things I can change and the only fixes we can put in place are band-aids.  Everything got started off really well, though, with only a few minor road-bumps.   RPGs, table top games, miniatures, and everything else got started off really well.

Highlights during the weekend include

  • Killer: The Game of Assassination made its return to MACE, after nearly a 10-year hiatus. And I learned why I took a hiatus on it. It takes a lot to run.
  • Organized Play is expanding. For the longest time, Pathfinder Society (PFS) was really the only game in town.  The RPGA was in a slow decline and I wasn’t sure what was going to take its place.  With the release of D&D 5th edition, Wizards has expanded its D&D Encounters program to be more con-friendlier.  Having nearly as many tables of D&D Adventurer’s League as we did Pathfinder Society was an encouraging thing to see.
  • On the PFS side, we had some issues come up that threatened the possibility of having any games of organized play Pathfinder at MACE, but those seemed to resolve themselves and we had a very successful PFS schedule. We even had more than a few GMs cancel last minute, but our coordinator, Nathan Littlefield, pulled it together in the end.  Thanks to him for that.
  • Table top board and cards games are surging at MACE. Honestly, despite my efforts to make MACE a big-tent of gaming, for years MACE has been known as primarily an RPG con.  It’s not my fault that the majority of GMs I can get want to run RPGs, but this seemed to put off a lot of other gamers for a period of time.  With the move to Charlotte, it seemed to act as a reset to that perception.  Thanks to more space, as well as groups like the Queen City Gamers Club and others, board games and card games are on a real upsurge at MACE.  We made room for a board game library a few years back and ever since then, it has expanded more and more.  It is funny how some board gamers are just happy with a room and a stack of games to choose from and others need scheduled events.  I have worked pretty hard to accommodate both.
  • This year brought more unpublished play tests and demos than ever before. With the advent of Kickstarter and crowd funding, more and more game designers are popping up all over the place.  I love seeing some of the new ingenious designs.
  • Some of our featured events were a big success. Warmachine and Hordes played all day and all night, as well as other Privateer Press games.  The Carolina Warbunnies really worked their butts off this year and we do appreciate it.  Mage Wars tournament benefiting the Wounded Warriors was a great success.  We had a much better Magic the Gathering event than we have had in the past and that is going to grow.  Those are the ones I know about.  I am sure there are others.

There were also some disappointments, but honestly they were overshadowed by everything else going on.  The only major disappointment was space utilization.  The ballroom that was vacated by the football team was underutilized, partially because of some events not being as successful as we wanted and partially because we did not hold a live auction this year.

That is another disappointment that was out of anyone’s control – no live auction.  I know people enjoy that but because of many factors, we had to change it last minute.  Primary of those factors was lack of donations.  Neither me nor Jeff really understand it, but Jeff’s efforts produced a much smaller amount of stuff.  Thus the auction was changed to a silent auction.

On top of running gaming registration and Con Killer, I also ran four games during the weekend and all went really well.  I had a blast with all of them – Aliens, the board game, two D&D 5th edition sessions and one Achtung! Cthulhu session.  They were all very fun and I want to thank all my players for enjoying the games despite my fatigue and the distractions from gaming registration.

Overall, I was very pleased with the results of MACE 2014.  By the early numbers, it was the best year for us yet.  MACE continues to grow, despite facing considerable adversity each year.  I am very proud at what we have built here in the Carolinas and thank everyone for their participation, dedication and loyalty through our 18 years.

StormCon 2014 – Charleston, SC

Mid-June found myself and my family in sweltering North Charleston, SC for another StormCon, a young and growing gaming con run by a great group of people.  I had fun last year at this con and I fully intended on supporting it again this year.  I signed up to run a good variety of games – 1 RPG, 1 board game, and 1 miniature game.  I was really looking forward to this as a break from real life and a chance to game with some friendly faces – new and old.

One of the primary reasons I like StormCon is the group of people running it. They are solid people that have a good vision, are willing to make changes to improve, and are making an honest effort to improve the experience for each and every gamer. They care about every aspect of the experience – from preregistration to sitting down and gaming. They are also a very independent group and want to make their own mistakes and learn from them. I admire that a lot about them. They are also willing to listen to advice and use it in ways that work for them. They are hard working individuals that are good, grass roots gamers.

The con is young and going through a lot of learning phases. They are trying to work on a system that works for them and their gamers. Again, I can respect that. I can speak to them all day of my experiences and all the work I have put into gaming registration, but it would fall on deaf ears if it’s not a system they could implement or make work for them. So going in, I know to expect the glitches that come from learning some of the same lessons I did when I started doing this nearly 15 years ago.  Honestly, there were some glitches, but nothing I could not get over.

They are also not arrogant in thinking they have this “down to a science” after just a few short years.  They listen to advice when given and fine tune things not only year by year, but also hour by hour.  They are very quick on their feet when any gamer needs help or a change. They are a very service oriented group of guys and girls, and it is a joy to work with them.

2014 meant a new hotel for StormCon.  It was a little more expensive but included an incredible breakfast every morning.  It was a Hilton Garden Inn near the Airport, with a Wendy’s sharing the parking lot, so food options were not far away.  It was also 30 minutes from the beach and across the street from a major outlet center, so my wife and kids had a lot of other options while I gamed.

The hotel itself was very nice.  The rooms were not too small.  The five of us fit fairly comfortably.  They had refrigerators and microwaves in the rooms which made things easier for us too.  The internet was surprisingly fast for a hotel that was full of gamers and at least one wedding party.  The breakfast was top notch.  I had very little complaints about the hotel.  It was well worth the little extra money I spent to stay there.

On the other side to that, though, was the “inside baseball” stuff I heard from the convention managers.  The con was the victim of a lot of turn-over in the hotel sales staff.  They have seen 3 different sales representatives and many aspects of the contract were apparently unclear.  I have seen this happen a lot, and it has happened to cons I have worked with.  It is very hard to maintain consistency in a hotel deal if the hotel can’t keep their employees (which is usually a bad sign in general).  In many cases, despite all your efforts to make sure everything is in writing, things get left out, details are talked about but never written down, and things can be misinterpreted, assumed or simply forgotten.  It’s important to have a detail-oriented and experienced sales person when setting up a con space, and if you don’t have that, you are setting yourself up for some bumps in the road.

Not to say that StormCon set themselves up or that it was their fault in any way.  They had no control over it.  The hotel just could not keep their employees happy.  They know now to get every detail in writing.  Details like rooms hours, any kind of security charge, and restrictions on food in the con space are all very important and affect the experience of a gamer.  StormCon thought they had all that covered but because of the change in hotel sales staff, details apparently slipped through the cracks.

However, this goes back to my earlier praises.  The con staff worked their butts off to make sure whatever glitches the hotel was throwing at them, it was transparent to the gamers.  The only reason I knew about it was because they came to me to vent and get advice.  That is what a good convention staff does – whatever glitches that might happen with the hotel or anything else must be invisible to the convention attendees.  They accomplished that.

Arrival to the con went fairly well.  I got my badge as soon as I arrived around 4 pm on Friday of the con.  There was a decent crowd there already, but I could tell that the big crowd had not arrived yet.  Parking was already becoming a problem, but the staff quickly had a solution for that by working with the hotel to find alternative parking across the street.  This is a bad problem to have but it’s also a good sign that you are going to have good attendance.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was the new gaming registration system they were trying out.  It consisted of a very well-built 2-sided peg board easel with several small clipboards on each side with a game sign-up sheet on each clipboard.  I had considered this kind of system before and, in theory, it should work but I do not think people realize the level of maintenance this kind of thing takes.  It has to make sense to a majority of your attendees and if it doesn’t, then the system falls apart.  Never assume that if it makes sense to you that it will makes sense to them.  Try to make it as stupid proof as you can.

In addition, accuracy is paramount.  It’s not easy keeping things sync’ed between the online tool they were using (Warhorn) and their physical sign up.  This caused issues with my first game (Achtung! Cthulhu) as I had 7 players and 6 characters.  Fortunately, I had a person willing to bow out and allow the two extras, who were a couple, play instead.  I hate that it happened, and this is the kind of thing that does happen if you don’t maintain “the board.”  There was data out of sync somewhere and a gamer got shafted out of a chance to play the game he signed up for. Fortunately, he was gracious about it.

My game went reasonably well, but I still was not able to get to the end.  I was running the Three Kings adventure and trying to fit it into a 4-hour slot and it did not work.  I have some new ideas that will hopefully fix that, however.  By my next con, I hope to have those new changes implemented and ready.

Saturday morning, I found myself playing in a game of Numenera. I have been trying to get a review of this on The Gamer’s Codex with little luck.  I have heard a lot about it and I really wanted to try it out.  The GM was very good with the 3 players he had.  I found the setting to be interesting and the system to be very fluid.  However, I had my own issues with it and am not sure if I would run it myself.  It has nothing to do with the GM as the GM was very good at explaining the setting as well as the system.  It just seemed that the system and the setting both were trying too hard to be gimmicky in their own way.  Overall, though, I would count this as a good con gaming experience.

Another problem that a lot of game registration systems have is a gray area of gaming – table top board or card games.  Some table top gamers just want to sit down and play whatever and not worry about preregistering for games.  Those are usually the light games, family games and card games that are easy to play in 2 to 3 hours.  Meanwhile, you may have other games that need sign ups, need to know when they are going to start and end, and need a little more structure.  Some game masters simply want to know if they have players ahead of time because game set up might take time.  Not an easy thing to deal with because you never know what kind you are dealing with when you are making your schedule.  Communication between the gaming coordinator and the game masters is important here.  My next game is a good example of this potential problem.

My second game was a board game of sorts – classic Aliens board game that I converted to a minis game with some color printing and HorrorClix minis I bought off Ebay.  It’s a game that takes some prep time and not an easy game to just sit down and play.  I need to know if I have players ahead of time and how many.  In whatever game I am playing, to be honest, I prefer to know these things ahead of time. Unfortunately, an assumption was made that I did not need a sign-up and it was left off the sign-up board.  I was on the preregistration on Warhorn but not on site.  It was a little disconcerting to find that out 30 minutes before the game was to start.  Needless to say, I did not get enough players to play and my game did not make.  I am not the type to set up my game and hope to get players.  I really want to have the players signed up and ready before I get started.  I probably did not make that clear and I take the blame for that.

Regardless though, I was fine with my game not making.  I had a late night before and an early morning playing Numenera.  So the break did me good.  My next game was at 7 pm, so I took the time to relax, talk “shop” with folks, browse the dealer room and experience the atmosphere of the con.

That evening, I had the great pleasure of playing in a Savage World setting written by a couple of great guys – Battle for Oz.  This is a phenomenal setting from Kickstarter by a couple of guys out of Raleigh, NC.  They premiered at StormCon last year and continue to run demos all over the region.  They were also at MACE 2013 and will be at MACE 2014. This is an incredible setting, based on the world created by L. Frank Baum.  It is the land of Oz with a dark and more serious twist.  The world has been taken over by a dark lord and the players are resistance, trying to fight back against it.  There are some very familiar fantasy aspects to it but also some very unique ones as well.  I had a lot of fun with this, in part because it is a cool setting but also in part because the players were phenomenal. I played an anthropomorphic wolf (they did not mention those in “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) and he was a bad-ass!  This made my day and the con.

Stay tuned for a review of Savage Worlds Battle for Oz soon on The Gamer’s Codex.

Sundays are usually slow and I did not expect my game to make on Sunday.  Sunday was to be my miniature game, and I signed up to run Axis & Allies.  Being an older game, I figured that would be another reason I did not get players.  I was wrong.  I was met with three players and I was more than happy to sit down and game with them.  It was awesome to get to play the game again because it is a good game.  Ending on a good note like that really helps with the con experience.

One aspect that I think I am going to totally steal from them is their swap meet.  I have been wanting to do something like this for a while.  People can bring their old games and sell them like a garage sale.  It was a great place to find some unique deals.  I think you might be seeing something like this at MACE.

For their charity auction, they had a similar set up to what they had last year.  They had several donations setup with boxes of tickets for each.  People bought tickets, placing them in the item boxes they wanted a chance to win.  On Sunday, they held a raffle.  All money went to a good charity and everyone that won, went home happy.

Along with these, they had a set of board games available on a play-to-win basis.  Every player of one of these games gets their name written down on a list for a chance to win the game itself.  Of course, they have to play it first.  This is a new phenomena that is hitting the smaller cons and StormCon handles it well.  MACE is doing this as well as many smaller publishers that want to do more than just donate the game to a con library that might occur just once a year.  They want to give the game to the public and get it out there.  It’s a good concept as long as you have people to mange it.

Overall, StormCon was a great experience this year.  Early numbers indicate that it had a little over 20% growth this year, which is a very manageable and encouraging growth.  They are on track to be a great con as long as they learn from the minor mistakes and glitches.  Lessons I would pull away from this are (a) do not treat all games the same.  Work on a system that can accommodate all types of registration and visibility needs; (b) communication with the game masters is very important but that goes both ways; (c) be careful with hotel contracts and any details in said contract.

In truth, they are going through many of the similar things we went through 15 years ago when MACE started.  They are listening to good advice and finding ways to make it work for them.  They have a lot of promise and passion about it and continue to grow and focus on the right areas to make it a good experience.  I really want to try and make it to this con every year, funds allowing, just to see how they evolve and grow.

MACE West 2014 – Asheville, NC Gaming Convention – Gaming Coordinator Report

March 2014 meant not only that I turned 45, but also that MACE West moved to Asheville, NC, home of the Biltmore Estate! It was a new area for us and they seemed very welcoming to us on Facebook, but I wasn’t sure how accepting they would be about how we do things.  We are a little more organized than what they may be used to, which I freely admit is sort of a double-edged sword.  They could love the organization or they could think we are too “nazi” about the way we do things.

MACE West is the first “spin off” convention from our core event, MACE.  Our success at MACE gave us the confidence that we could do this kind of thing other places and for other people.  Hickory, where we started MACE West, dried up for us when the location was sold out from under us.  Several of our regulars mentioned Asheville and it did not take long before word got out and some Asheville folks were all but begging us to come.  Who knew Asheville was a bustling gaming haven waiting to be tapped?

The location was leaps and bounds better than what we had in Hickory, although it has less potential for growth.  So going forward, our growth will have to be managed.  However, we would not know how much management it would take until we knew how well the MACE model would be received there.  Less than a mile from the Biltmore Estates, the Doubletree Asheville is a beautiful location.

Pathfinder Society is hot everywhere and Asheville is no different.  In fact, it has a considerable PFS lodge run but some very fine folks.  Working with them was a delight.  They had their stuff together way before anyone else would have in a similar situation and I was very pleased with their pre-con communication and preparation.  I set out to give them more tables than I have ever given a PFS group, even for MACE.   The amazing thing was I was going from 2 tables of PFS when we were in Hickory to 9 and possibly 12 tables in Asheville.  That’s a lot of gaming.

However, any MACE is more than just organized play, no matter how hot it may be.  MACE prides itself in the variety it can bring, and Asheville opened  up to supply it.  For the first time at a  MACE West, we arranged to host a Warmachine feeder to our own Invitational, as well as a feeder to SCARAB’s championship. On top of that, we discovered fairly early on that there was a strong historical miniature community in Asheville and they were very enthusiastic to support us.  Add to that, a strong board game Meetup group, and early on MACE West was building up to be a great success.

Preregistration numbers were incredibly good, especially in comparison with old MACE West numbers.  Our room night commitment was a big concern going in but as we drew closer, it was less and less of a concern.  The Asheville people really turned out and some of them actually got rooms.  We can not express our appreciation enough to those that helped us in this way.

Arrival was Thursday night before the con, hauling in all my stuff – computers, game registration stuff, my contribution to the board game library, as well as the things I needed for the games I was running.  The hotel was more than amazing.  They were constantly helping out where they could but not in an obnoxious and annoying way.  It’s like they had a sixth sense about when we truly needed help.  I really felt welcome here.  The bonus was that the general manager has had experience with a con like ours when he worked in Charlottesville, Virgina.  That is extremely valuable in our business.  It meant that he understands us.

Friday went incredibly smooth.  Gamers started coming in way earlier than we thought and the rooms were looking busy fairly quickly.  We had 1o tables set up for other RPGs, a room dedicated to board games (scheduled and pick up) and a room dedicated to miniatures.  The PFS room (the largest) started filling up at 7 pm as they chose not to take advantage of the early slot (Friday 3pm), which was perfectly fine by me.  The minis really were not going to get started until Saturday, with only a few things going on in there Friday.  The board games and regular RPGs were the primary focus of attention early Friday.  I was very pleased with the staged start.

Friday night, I set myself up to run the Three Kings adventure of Achtung! Cthulhu.  I decided to run it in Savage Worlds/Realms of Cthulhu instead of Call of Cthulhu and this was the first time I was going to run this at a con.  My table was full with preregistered players, all people I would consider Savage Worlds all-stars – MACE regulars that have a lot of experience themselves in running and playing Savage Worlds.

You can see my second look of this adventure here, but I can safely say that I was not satisfied with the session.  It took too long and we never got to a satisfactory resolution.  I made plans to resolve those issues in my next iteration.

By Friday night, about 75% of our gaming was in full swing.  The Asheville Bored Game Geeks Meetup group (“Bored” intentionally spelled that way) really showed up and helped us out in the game library.  I cannot thank them enough.  The regular RPG room turned out to be somewhat of a noise problem (as it almost always does) so we moved some games out to other smaller rooms and to the lobby.  We gave the board room (typical large tabled room with comfortable chairs) to some special games, which was a nice addition for those guys.

Of course, as expected, the PFS room was busy.  RPGA had one table in there but between 7 and 8 tables of PFS were full.  For some reason, Shadowrun Missions just did not take here in Asheville.

As stated, my game ran way too late and kind of put me in a bad mood.  I stayed up to clean up, put away gaming registration stuff, and finally went to bed after handling a few minor scheduling issues.  There were a lot of people wanting to get on the schedule on site, and I had to accommodate a little more of that than I am used to.  But that’s a good thing.  The Asheville community proved to be a very dynamic one.

Saturday started early because PFS starts a little earlier than most, thanks to their five hour slots.  They filtered in fairly quickly and on average, 8 to 9 tables all day were full and running.  RPGA continued to run their one table and seemed happy despite the massive amount of noise going on.

The big thing that started on Saturday was going to be the Warmachine events and more historical miniatures.   I was curious how that was going to mesh in the same room.  It turned out very well.  We had way more Warmachine players than expected and many other Privateer Press games got demo’ed.  The historical minis all went off without a hitch and I was very pleased with the result.  That room was also very busy throughout Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, I ran a miniatures version of the classic 1987 game Aliens.  I blew up the maps to 1 inch/25mm scale and used re-purposed Horrorclix and Halo-Clix minis to run the reactor scenario.  I had play-tested it before and it seemed to be very balanced, but this time it seemed a little out of balance, perhaps because I introduced one house rule that favored the players.  Perhaps that goes to show you how delicate balance can be in some games.  The players still seemed to have fun.

Saturday is usually the day that something major happens and I was pleasantly surprised that nothing did.  There were some glitches with the food and the hotel, but they were mostly minor.  Most seemed relatively receptive to the food and the prices, but there was enough learned that there will be some changes next year.

We noticed that walk-in traffic slowed to a near halt way early.  Saturday had hardly any walk-in traffic.  Everyone that was going to game with us all came on Friday or preregistered, which told us a lot of things.  By Saturday afternoon, all the rooms were pretty full.  Attendance had nearly doubled past MACE West numbers.  The gamers in this area knew what they wanted and understood what to expect.  There was a certainty that made this MACE West feel way different from the ones in the past.  That was a good thing.

Savage Saturday Night went reasonably well except for the food issue – the hotel did not like outside food brought in for the SSN players, which is something we do every year.  Hopefully we can get those problems resolved for next year as the hotel food for a group that size is way too expensive.

By Saturday night, I had gotten good reports from all departments, and even gotten a few opportunities to play a few quickie dice and card games.  Despite the linear layout of the hotel, there was a sort of natural flow to it that really added to the atmosphere.  I was concerned that there would be a divided feeling with gaming in two separate locations but there was not.

With two-thirds of the con in the books, it was becoming quite apparent MACE West was going to be a resounding success.  The pessimist in me was still waiting for the other shoe drop, but it never did and MACE West was heading down the home-stretch with a lot of good gaming experiences.

Sunday is what most con-goers call zombie day.  In most cases, it’s because the parties the night before kept everyone up late.  In the case of MACE events, it is because everyone stays up late gaming.  Regardless, a lot of gamers are passionate and still make it to the morning slot to game.  With little walk-in traffic, gaming registration was way less necessary than normal, so I could start packing up early.

As I walked around and thanked each individual for their help – the PFS guys, the Warmachine guys, the historical and board game guys – each one wanted more space.  This was what we were worried about.  It’s going to take some management but we are going to try our best to accommodate everyone’s requests.  There is no doubt that MACE West 2015 is going to be even better.

Nothing about MACE West 2014 was a disappointment for us.  The hotel was great.  The attendance was great.  The games were great.  There were a few very minor issues and a few things we will work with the hotel on to do better (namely food) but in general, MACE West 2014 was the best ever.

SCARAB 2014 – Columbia, SC

I had the opportunity to attend SCARAB in Columbia, SC this year. Due to scheduling conflicts and other life concerns I’ll not bore you with why I have not been able to attend a convention in a little over three years.  Needless to say I was looking forward to the gaming, seeing old friends and the overall experience.

I signed up for a one-day pass for Saturday the 18th on their web site. I had no problems with this part, as the process was relatively straightforward.  I then waited for an e-mail confirming my registration. I figured this e-mail would also have important information like location information, Con rules, gaming registration and such. No such e-mail came. After about a week I sent them an e-mail. Their e-mail address was easily found on their web site.  I received a reply within a day stating that they use Warhorn for gaming registration. I guess I’ve become jaded with gaming conventions that use an in-house system. I visited Warhorn, slogged through the large number of game offerings and picked three Pathfinder Society games for my Saturday.

I then had to look through various pages on the SCARAB web site and the convention center’s site for general info. I just happened to see the note that no outside food was allowed. I was happy to have seen this, as I would have shown up with snacks and a drink or two in my bag. I visited Mapquest and Google Maps for directions. They both agreed on a route. It looked relatively easy to find.

Early Saturday morning I left home for the slightly over an hour ride. The web site stated that the doors opened at 8:00 AM and that the first game slot also started at 8:00 AM. I was a little worried about this but planned to be there early just in case since I would need to get registered for the convention before playing in my first game. I turned onto Garners Ferry Road to find the sun right in my face.  From the description and pictures on the convention center’s site it appeared to be right off the road. It is not. It is actually off the road tucked behind the hotel. On my fourth trip by I just happened to look between two hotels at the right moment to see it. Parking was easy and convenient, although if your car is as low as mine is beware the tall speed bumps on the way in. I walked in just a few minutes before 8:00.

Inside the front doors I saw a concession area just to the left and a desk ahead of me. Only two others were in line. I walked up and joined them. A volunteer asked if anyone was pre registered. I replied and walked up. He then could not find my registration. It seems they made badges for full weekend attendees and only had generic color-coded armbands for daily attendees. They were keeping track of the daily attendees by checking e-mail messages on a phone. The data service in the convention center was a tad slow.  I had printed my Paypal receipt just in case. I presented this and they took it as proof. About the time I was given my armband the network caught up and they found my registration.

Having seen he layout of the center on its web site, I headed to the room the PFS games were scheduled to be in. I walked in to find this large room full of rectangular tables resplendent with war game terrain. Slightly confused I walked back out to make sure I was in the correct room. I was. A helpful attendee standing in the hall asked if I was looking for the PFS room and directed me down the hall, stating that it had been moved. I walked down the hall and into a very full room of people and confusion. Tables were set relatively close together. I looked around and only saw a handwritten note on one table stating which scenario was being played there. I got the attention of a passing volunteer who directed me to my table. My slot had just been given away to a walk in. Thankfully since I had registered for the game on Warhorn the walk in was shunted to another game and there seemed to be no hard feelings.

Once the game started all the slight frustrations were forgotten. We had a boisterous and outgoing Game Master and a table full of fun players. My second game was easier to find as I was playing with three of the same people from the first game and saw them already at a table. Once again, there was no obvious assigning of tables. The last session was the “special.” I’ve seen ‘mustering hell’ but this was slightly more special. Since I was there alone and the group I had played with all day was not playing the special, I did not have a pre-made group ready to go. I was one of the last sets of stragglers hoping to get in. In the end there were plenty of GM’s and everyone (to my knowledge) got a seat and was able to play. The special itself was a lot of fun. My thrown together group did well and in the end the day was won.

Between games I was able to walk around and check out the rest of the building. The PFS room was full all day long. The wargamers room was also full all day long. I was able to watch a minute or two of a few games there. I saw a lot of great looking terrain and some well-painted armies. Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40K and Battletech games were being played while I was watching. The general gaming room on the other end of the building is quite large and was mostly full when I checked off and on all day. The LARP area seemed light and there never seemed to be much of a crowd in the Anime room. Of course, when I had some spare time in the afternoon the anime room turned into the karaoke room. I wisely stayed away. You do not want to hear me sing. I would estimate total attendance to be somewhere in the 400 to 500 range. Overall it was a good turnout with a nice variety of gaming.

Dealers were setup in the general gaming room along one wall.  There was at least one dealer also setup in the wargaming room. The dealers were a varied bunch, ranging from modeling supplies, generic gaming supplies, and an artist to a very interesting comic book related vendor. While there were not a large number of vendors, the necessary things like dice and such were present.

The concession area was nice overall. They ran out of water halfway through the day but reloaded later. Prices were a little high as expected but not completely outrageous. Bottled drinks were $2.00 and snacks were $1.50. Dinner and lunch menu items hovered in the $5.00 to $9.00 range. Other than drinks and snacks, I did not partake but saw a decent variety of food offered. I overheard people giving the food overall positive comments. Most stating it was “better than the usual in-house con fair.”  The concession area stayed open until after 11:00 PM and had pretty decent coffee. For those with time, there are a few food options within easy walking distance from the venue. I had time to enjoy both lunch and dinner out. I also took a short drive and found quite a few fast food and sit down options just a few minutes drive away.

The convention center itself was nice. When I arrived I noticed the trash bins were overflowing but I know this is a common occurrence as the cleaning staff usually heads home before the gamers quit for the morning. Everything was quickly cleaned up not long after the first session started and stayed relatively clean all day. The restrooms were relatively clean all day. The only negative point I have concerning that is a minor one. A hook in the bathroom stalls would be nice for those of us with coats and/or bags with us and no hotel room to retreat to.  Tables in the gaming rooms were set relatively close together but enough space was given to allow easy access around the rooms.

Overall it was a good experience. There were some organization and planning issues that could have gone smoother, but at the end of the day I had enjoyed three gaming sessions, caught up with old friends, made new ones and went home tired and happy. If I am able to I will attend for at least a day next year.

MACE 2013 – The Gaming Coordinators Report

It’s been nearly a month since MACE 2013 ended. I have been caught up in various things post-con related as well as real-life related, so this report is late in coming.  Since it has been a month, much of the emotion and energy has died down in me but I have to say that this was definitely one of the best MACE events ever.  Between the tons of gaming and connecting up with so many old and new friends, it was an amazing weekend.

My MACE planning usually starts around August but this year was a little different.  Between all the official events Justus Productions was doing and the cons I chose to attend and run games, MACE is now a year round thing for me.  Starting with SCARAB, Mysticon, and MACE West, and then heading into summer with StormCon and RoundCon, MACE was on my mind quite a bit. I met several good people and ran a lot of games throughout the year.  Good times were had all around.  Couple that with the launch of our web site, The Gamers Codex and there is no doubt that MACE’s presence is being felt in places it was not before.

We took on several new challenges this year prior to the con that we had to prepare for.  I ran tests on my new on-site registration system at the various events we had opportunities to do so, and was heading into MACE with a new plan and a new system.  The ticket system was modified somewhat and last minute, I chose to modify it even further.  That posed a challenge on site primarily because I was not prepared to teach my volunteers the new system.

Also, Jeff and I chose to launch our Living MACE campaign contest, which turned out to be a lot of work for me.  It worked out in the end but the few bumps we ran into through the months before the con distracted me some.

mace-2013-web_-002

Matt Holmquist and Jim Ryan (from R to L)

Another aspect of this year’s MACE that built up over the year was a two-faceted gem – the Pinnacle Entertainment Group presence and the Paizo Publishing presence.  Of course, the visions of both events started out much larger in scale than they turned out to be, but in the end we could not have asked for anything better.  Thankfully Jeff Smith handled most of this so it did not take too big a place on my plate.  Thanks to Jason Bulmahn, Clint Black, Jodi Black and Shane Lacy Hensley for making MACE 2013 even more special this year.  It was great to help celebrate the 5th anniversary of Pathfinder as well as the 10th anniversary of Savage Worlds at MACE.

 

In all this, I also had to plan to run some games – both board games and role playing games.  I am afraid I did not dedicate enough time to this, especially the RPGs, because it reflected in the games I ran at the con.  The players had fun but I was not entirely pleased on how they ended.  Maybe I am too self-critical.  I am always over analyzing my games.

Another challenge we faced this year was the change in space.  The hotel called us early in the year about a special client that needed the large ballroom on Sunday.  Being the cooperative clients we are, we worked with the hotel to arrange things for this special client.  Of course, as most know by now, it was the NFL football team, the New England Patriots, here in Charlotte to play the Panthers on Monday night.  They had quite a bit of security requirements, some of which we found out last minute.  These of course caused some challenges on Sunday.  We thought we could handle it and I think we did.  All I had to do was arrange for the main ball room to be empty.  As we found out, that was not all they needed.  We adjusted for that as well.  We have a lot of thanks to go around for that too because I know we did not make certain GMs and players happy with all the shuffling around.

Going into the week of MACE was a mixed bag for me, though.  Even the month before, we had our ups and downs.  Various things with the hotel as well as pre-con discussions with long attendees told me this was not going to be an easy year, operationally.  I still felt like it was going to be a good year for us, but life was going to throw us as many challenges as it could to make it challenging.  And it did.  And, thankfully, we got over them.

Opening day presented the first of life’s challenges.  The hotel had several of our rooms booked right up until the last minute.  This made it difficult to set up all the rooms when I needed to.  This delayed pretty much everything.  And so when I got hit with the unexpected crowd at 2 pm for the first slot, I was definitely not prepared.  I do not think we have ever had a crowd like this at the opening hours.  Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe I felt like it was big because I was interacting with them more than in the past (because of the new sign up system).  Maybe it was big.  I don’t know.  Regardless, it was a challenge for me to handle alone. Thanks to Heath Medlin for helping out and I hate I could not stop and show him how to sign up people to help in that way but he helped big by showing people how to sign up, where to go to get their badge and placing stickers when games closed.

Next time, I will have volunteers for those hours.

After the first wave, things settled in really well.  The volunteers I had scheduled showed up on time and really helped out a lot.  Thanks to Megan Galloway and Jessica Paxton for their help.  I finally got an opportunity to walk around and see how things were getting started.  Across from my gaming registration was the game library room.  Throughout the weekend, I stopped in a lot.  This was also a source of concern for part of the year because I had no idea who was going to man it.  As it turns out, I did not need to worry.  Between the guys from StormCon and the Queen City Gaming Club, we had more than enough people competently handling the room.  I really appreciate everyone that helped out, including Barry Lewis, Pat Daily and Todd Muldrew.  They all did a phenomenal job.  This room was always busy.  Unfortunately, this was one of the rooms the Patriots wanted last minute so we had to close that early on Sunday. We thank everyone for cooperating when we had to do that.

Speaking of board/card games, one of my major concerns going into this year was the board and card game side of things.  Last year, AEG had a major presence in the main gaming room.  Well, this year, our AEG contact no longer works for them fulltime and did not have the pull he had last year.  So we had to fill the space with a lot more variety of games.  I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.  As it turned out, we did.  From various Kickstarted games, a number of well-supported tournaments as well as the support from many of my regular GMs, we had a lot going on in the main gaming room.  Added in there were the guys from Rolling Dice, Taking Names running games and recording stuff for their podcast, it was a very awesome environment.

The NC Gun Bunnies once again held their finals at MACE this year.  For the second year in a row, they ended a year’s worth of qualifiers with a major invitational tournament that took up one big room.  But that’s not all they did.  They were busy all weekend and I do not think I ever saw that room slow or quiet.  They ran various other tournaments and demos, so much so that they spilled out in the hallways.  Stephanie Shinn was the lead and I want to sincerely thank her for her hard work but she had a great team of Gun Bunnies helping her.  Their passion for their game is unsurpassed.  They did an extraordinary job and deserve a lot of thanks for it.

The Fort Mill Historical Gamers along with the Catawba Gamers worked together for us this year to present a few historical miniature and board games.  This is an area I personally want to grow.  I really appreciate the hard work of Jody Pleasant and Charles Cabell for bringing in some very cool games.  They were well received and most had a good number of players.  I was rather pleased with the result, considering it was the first year we tried it.  I hope we have the space next year to do more.  I really want to play more Axis & Allies minis.

The RPGs took up 3 rooms of the large ball room as well as the room called Glenwaters.  I had a total of 45 tables set up in those rooms for RPGs but I think in most cases the rooms were no more than two thirds full (by design).  Everything moved to Glenwaters on Sunday and that was a pretty packed room then, but overall I think I managed the room noise fairly well.  The organized play room was probably the only room that had a major problem and that’s only because they were full all the time.  So by that estimate, I probably had about 175 to 200 tables of RPGs.  That’s about 10% to 15% increase from last year, by my estimates.  That’s the kind of growth I want and can manage.

From what little I could tell (as they were on the opposite side of the building most of the weekend), the organized play games went well – perhaps the busiest RPG room we had.  I heard no complaints.  Thanks to Del Collins, Greg Gershowitz, and Mac MacFarland for all their hard work on their various aspects of organized play.

There was so much going on that weekend, I could not keep up with everything. I can’t congratulate all the tournament winners because there were so many, I could not keep up.  So a generic congratulations goes out to all the winners.  I never really found out how Savage Saturday Night went but I think it went well.  The people I talked to seemed to have a good time despite the great cupcake disaster.  I know that the charity game with Jason Bulmahn went well and had a full table.  I took pictures of that.  Jason was very kind to accommodate his game to use the gaming tables from Jim Barnes.

As usual, the panels were varied.  People continue to ask for them but I don’t set my expectations high because I realize gamers just want to game.  I struggled with panelists this year because of that very reason – they just wanted to game.  So if the panels seemed thin this year, that’s why.

The kids program was a success from what I can tell, although at times the kids were pretty crazy in the hallways.  I did get a few complaints of that and I am sure Jeff and I will have discussions about that and how to change things in the future.

As I said before, my games went fairly well but I was not happy with the way the RPGs ended.  I have to work harder on the endgame plan of my con games, obviously.  I thank all the players for playing and being patient with me.  Running games while running a con is not always a good thing but it’s one of the few moments of true joy I get out of otherwise a hectic weekend.

The height of my weekend is always the auction and I knew this year was going to be tough.  I had a ton of donations from John Reavis’s estate and I wasn’t sure we were going to get through them all in time.  I had already set up an online auction (yet another thing I had to deal with prior to the con) but that only set the minimum bid on certain items.  Amazingly, everything went well for the auction and we got out of there on time.  It was a humbling thing to see so many people give up so much for charity and to own some of John’s cool stuff.  We raised $4000 for the various charities that Justus Productions donates too and I was very proud to be a part of it.

Congratulations to Matt Holmquist for winning the Living MACE Contest.  Also congratulations to Stephanie Shinn for winning the MACE Appreciation award.

In the end, we had about a 10% to 15% growth in attendance, getting us up to about 660 total individuals.  We had about a 30% to 40% growth in preregistrations with a slight drop in at-the-door sales.  Which means more people are preregistering and taking advantage of our online gaming registration system.  If you had any problems at gaming registration, consider preregistering.  Much of your wait times would be eliminated if you preregister.

Sunday was kind of a hassle but we knew it was coming.  We have to deeply thank all those that helped get things moved around and closed up as the Patriots came in.  We know that we rushed people out and I hope people understand that we were being pressured by others to get people out.  This was a unique situation and will probably never happen again.  Next year, we should have all the space we need for as long as we need.

For next year in order to handle the growth I plan to have more changes and more help.  I am already modifying OGRe (our online game registration system) and the various reports that make up my posters and sign ups.  I learned a lot from this year and I hope further changes will only improve your experience.  For a preview of those changes, come to MACE West in Asheville.

Thanks again to everyone who volunteered, ran games and generally helped out.  This was a great year for MACE despite all the new challenges we faced.  Thanks to my wife, Stephanie for her patience and unyielding support through this past year.  Thanks to Jeff Smith and Karen Smith for their hard work on the business end of MACE.  Thanks to the Grinning Goblin crew for the hard work and service.  And thanks to all the gamers that turned out and played games.  I really hope you had fun.  Please feel free to pass on any constructive criticisms if you have any.

StormCon 2013 – Southern Gaming Redefined

July 12-14, 2013 marks the first weekend of a new con in the Carolinas – StormCon.  It took place in Summerville, SC and was formed by a group of veteran gamers with a common desire to put on a good gaming con.  I attended the full weekend and have to say that it was definitely a great experience.

img_20130713_200214_151Arrival was dampened not only by rain but also bad traffic into town because of a sink-hole.  But that aside, once I settled in and cleared my head, the positive energy of the con took over.  This con is a fine example of a small con with a lot of potential and a good future.  The people behind it are good people.  You are immediately greeted by some of the friendliest people – some of which I regret not getting their names.  I know Barry Lewis, Keith Mageau, Shane Runkle, and C. Patrick “Pat” Daily.  All these guys gamed or worked at the Green Dragon in Charleston and have a lot of gaming experience between them.  They are the primary leaders behind StormCon and worked their butts off to make this con what it is.

These guys – Barry, Keith, Shane, and Pat – had worked on other projects, individually and together, in the Charleston, SC area for some time.  Among them are the Gathering at the Park – a gaming event at a park, Non-Con at The Green Dragon game store and BROGfest.  Collectively, all of their experience and passions have built up to form StormCon.  They all have various gaming interests – from board games and role playing to war games and card games.  The con reflected their experience and good mix of interests.

My weekend started by sitting down with my 5-year-old son and playing the new Star Wars X-Wing minis game by Fantasy Flight Games.  I used to be a diehard Star Wars fan, running many RPG campaigns in the classic d6 and d20 versions.  Although my fandom of Star Wars has severely diminished since the prequels, my son’s interest in it has brought me back into the fold.  Aaron Cox was demoing the game and did an excellent job dealing with my son who was probably too young to play.  Once my son got tired of it, we gathered a couple of new players and had a serious dog fight.  I have to say that the game is amazing.  Based on the Wings of War mechanic (also by FFG), the game is simple and elegant.  The game system is easy to learn and just plays really well.  It is a great game.

That evening, I ran a Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition adventure from the Blood Brothers supplement – Uncle Timothy’s Will.  What I love the most when playing a game like this is people grasping the characters really well while at the same time displaying that understanding in the subtle ways they role play them.  I have had players grasp the character concept well but overplay the characteristics, and that can be funny at times but get old fast.  These players did very well.  I had a lot of fun.

The rest of the evening was spent talking shop with friends.  Overall it was a good evening with a lot of fun.  It was a great way to start out a weekend at a con.  First impressions at a con are very important and this con really did well in that area.  Despite the fact that it had a small footprint – two rooms totaling about 4000 sq ft – their first impression made up for it.  It can be a real downer to come to a con and see limited space to game in.  However, StormCon easily overcame that by utilizing the space very well and scheduling a good variety of games throughout. Couple that with a very positive and friendly staff and they nailed the good first impression test.

The remainder of the weekend was spent either chatting with the staff about cons and gaming, or gaming.  My Saturday could have been full of gaming but I ended up sleeping late and then missing my game that I signed up for in the afternoon (my own fault).  Saturday night, however, I got to play in the illustrious Clint Black’s Savage Worlds: Deadlands Hell on Earth game which was phenomenal.  The weekend ended with a great game of Game of Thrones with a full table (and then some).  That’s a very popular board game these days.  I wonder why?

The entire weekend was very busy for everyone.  I can’t really guess how many people attended but what I can say is that the rooms were always packed.  There were times that the RPG room was not as packed at it could be but the main room where miniatures, war games, board games and card games were played was always busy.  They definitely have a good base of gamers to build from and will need more room next year.  They already were talking about a new location when I spoke to them.

My only criticism is that they need to nail down a good game registration system – online and onsite.  They used Warhorn for the preregistration, which has its issues, and they did not really have anything on-site.  The nice thing was that their layout was small enough that they did not really need onsite but they are going to need it in the future.  The tables will need table numbers, they are going to need some means to display the schedule other than Warhorn and a good on-site sign up system will be needed.

One key part of the con to anyone is the cost.  This con is worth the money, for sure.  Preregistration was $30 with an at-the-door price of $35.  The rooms were a good price, too, at $80 per night.  Overall, it is a very good value for your money.  Couple that with a 30-minute drive from the beach, you can come up early Friday and enjoy the beach in the morning.  This makes for a great value.

The extras they had at the con were also nice.  They were raising money for charity – Camp Happy Days – and had a raffle for several very cool items donated to the con.  They also had an interesting play-to-keep feature where you can play certain games (and they would demo the game for you if you asked), and get your name on a list for a chance to win it.  All of those were given out between game slots on Sunday. Other little extras were the free pencils and sharpener in the RPG room, donated sweet tea in the rooms, and Dunkin’ Donuts Saturday morning free with donation to the charity.

Like I said before, StormCon has a lot of potential.  It has a lot of passion, energy and good gaming atmosphere.  I would highly recommend it to any gamer.  They have all it takes to become a large local con and I look forward to seeing them grow into the amazing con they will become.

Origins 2013: Mechjocks & Battletech Pods

One of the more interesting and cool items at Origins 2013 that deserves special mention are from the guys at Mechjock.com and Virtual World. Set up in the main hallway in the convention center were 6 (or 7, I can’t recall) pods that just looked awesome. All around it were logos, posters and video screens displaying Battletech ‘mechs and Battletech combat. I thought it was some new Battletech simulator game being released at Origins.  However, it turns out that it’s not something new but it is still very cool.

img_20130615_153559_099Virtual World Entertainment is the company behind these pods.  The Mechjocks is the company that travels to various cons with these pods and sets them up for you to play Battletech: Firestorm.  Based on the Mechwarrior 4 engine, these pods put you in the cockpit of a Battlemech of your choice.  Built a few years back, they appeared in Battletech Centers and other arcades like Dave & Busters.  These machines are a little dated, running mostly on Windows XP boxes.  The pods are called the Tesla II cockpits and have a full mechwarrior cockpit inside with the main viewer screen and several other minor screens throughout, updating the status of your ‘mech during battle.  It is a very slick-looking pod that gives you all the realism you would want for a Battlemech pilot.

This group is out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, but there is a southern group in Texas.  They also currently have 4 pods for sale if you so happen to have $25,000 laying around.  I asked them what the minimum size of a con they would do because I would imagine they would not just attend any con.  Minimum size to make it worth it  is about 1000 to 2000 people, so you have to have a decent con before they will consider you.  I don’t blame them.  I would imagine hauling these beasts around the country can get expensive.

The pods are completely networked together so you are in a battle with all the other pods.  They run simple 7-minute free-for-alls for $6 or full fledged tournaments for a little more.  Signing up is fairly simple.  I had a few generic chips left for the weekend, so I paid for myself and my friend Jim Harris to play in a free-for-all.  All I had to do is walk up, give them my call sign (which appears above the pad in LED lights) and pay.

img_20130615_153611_695Sitting in the cockpit after a 15-minute wait, I was somewhat overwhelmed by sensory input.  There was the main screen, of course, but there were 5 other green screens feeding you input as well.  Also a secondary radar screen helps you target your opponents.  Remembering back in my days with Mechwarrior and Mechwarrior 2, I remember how important the secondary screens were.  They helped alert you of opponents all around you, as well as assess your damage, heat, ammo and energy situation.  In this cockpit, all that information is in front of you but you have no idea which screen is which when you first start out.  To just play the game in a free-for-all that information is not overly important, but in a tournament or long term mission it’s essential.  I know it would take me 3 or 4 times to grow accustomed to the cockpit displays.

There are two hand controls – one for torso pivot and the other is the throttle.  The throttle, foot pedals and military-style joystick help you pilot the ‘mech and at your fingertips are the weapons controls for the various weapons your ‘mech has.  Results may vary based on the ‘mech your choose – and there are quite a few to choose from, all the familiar ones as well as some I did not recognize.  There are over thirty different ‘mechs to choose from.  Of course each ‘mech has variations on size, speed, weapons and controls.  There are also choices of more than twenty different battlefields, including cities, swamplands, canyons, and more.  I played in a grassland with some kind of landing zone or something.  I piloted a Rifleman, which is a ‘mech that is best at long range.  That ‘mech just popped into my head when they asked me what ‘mech I wanted to pilot.  I just remember taking out even Atlas at long range with a Rifleman. Shot to the head! Long Range Heavy Laser!  Unfortunately, not the best ‘mech for short range free-for-alls.

Once you get dropped into combat and orient yourself, the controls come fairly naturally.  I think it would serve them well if they gave the pilots a 2 or 3 minute practice round before going into combat in order to get accustomed to the screens as well as the weapons.  Since I only had two primary weapons, I found myself toying around with buttons I did not need to, wasting valuable time in combat.  As it turned out, 7 minutes is a lot longer than I expected.  If you die, seconds later, you are dropped into the combat again.  You get a full 7 minutes no matter how many times you die.

I did pretty well against the smaller ‘mechs.  The heavy lasers on my arms did enough damage that I did not have to worry about them.  It was the big Atlas and the medium ‘mechs that were a pest.  I think I died 4 or 5 times.  I don’t remember my score but I do not think it was all that good.

I really enjoyed the 7 minutes I played and definitely wanted to play more.  However, I am not sure I enjoyed it enough to pay another $6 – almost $1 a minute.  Like I said, it would take me 3 or 4 times to get good enough to make it worth it – which is what they are hoping for.  The staff was very friendly and answered all my incessant questions.  They are a good group of people who love what they are doing, obviously.  I highly recommend at least trying it once and if you think it’s worth your $6 or even more, then go for it!

If you are interested in having them at your con or event and think you will have enough people to interest them, check them out at MechJock.com.