Sci-Fi Conventions Review

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ConGregate 2015

Sci-fi fandom gathering in High Point, NC

Once again, JustUs Productions was asked to do gaming at ConGregate, a small and growing sci-fi convention in North Carolina.  At its core, ConGregate is made up of a lot of experienced people from a con called StellarCon, which they ran for many years.  StellarCon was eventually handed over to a new group of people, primarily based out of UNC-Greensboro and has since collapsed from poor leadership and management.  Although scheduled during a different time of the year, ConGregate is picking up from the ashes of that con and reigniting fandom in the Triad area.

It’s not always easy, especially for a con scheduled in the heart of summer vacation time, to pull in the fans. It did reasonably well last year, so the con staff stuck with it.  The worst thing a con can do is move its dates around, so I don’t blame them.  They lined up a pretty decent guest list which included…

Writer Guest of Honor: Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole  (two long time Star Wars writers and Michael was also a gaming writer for along time)

Fan Guest of Honor: Albin Johnson (founder of the 501st Stormtroopers)

Special Artist Guest: Scott Rorie (incredible artist, best known for his Star Wars art)

Special Musical Guests: Valentine Wolfe

Obviously the release of the new Star Wars movie was an influence.

From a gaming point of view, Pathfinder and D&D Adventurers League lead the pack on getting on the schedule and in getting pre-registrations.  I was able to pull in a few other non-organized play games, including help from the No Ordinary Gamers demo group, the Hull Breach demo team and Duncan Davis, creator of Origin: In the City.  Additionally, the NC Gunbunnies organized a small Warmachine/Horde qualifier for the Invitational event we hold at MACE every year.

As much as I liked the gaming schedule line up, I prefer to have a little more board games and RPGs but I get whatever the community is willing to give me.  It was like stepping back in time for me, during the days when I ran gaming for StellarCon (2000 to 2006).  It’s humbling to come back to a con that limits me to 20 tables when I am used to 100+ tables at MACE.  I had a chance to get to know some of the more dedicated gamers and play some games I have not had a chance to play at our bigger events.

This is also JustUs Productions’ return to the High Point hotel it used to reside in.  We used to run MACE out of this old hotel up until 4 years ago when it moved to a larger hotel and better location in Charlotte.  The hotel in general is much improved on the surface since last I had seen it.  Radisson had taken it over and cleaned it up a lot.  There is still some obvious age to the place, but the owners are obviously making an effort to clean it up.

My hopes were that the con had shaken off the first year jitters and gaming would get some momentum.  Some of the same GMs did return from last year but some did not.  I got a few new ones too, so that is encouraging.  Unfortunately, at least for Friday night, it did not change from last year and perhaps stepped back a little.  Unfortunately, the gamers did not turn out all that much Friday night.  The only shining light in all Friday was D&D Adventurers League and Pathfinder Society, which made several tables and that room was busy all night.

One very interesting moment that started the weekend out with me is meeting a particular guy – we will name him Jon – who really concerned me when he first contacted us about signing up for D&D AL.  He seemed somewhat obsessive.  Turns out, he is functionally autistic and somewhat agoraphobic.  He did not know what he was getting into when he signed up for a convention game but his doctor told him that he needed to stop playing computer games and be more social.  D&D AL turned out to be his outlet.  So I made it my mission to make sure he was as comfortable as possible and made sure he got to his table.  In a way, that made my day – to help someone that is willing to make the effort to come out of his shell despite the debilitation he is suffering from.

Friday night did not change all that much for the final evening slot.  My game of Eldritch Horror did not make, so I gathered up a couple of players to try a new game out – I, Spy.  No, it is not the kids game.  It is a great Kickstarter board game by Lost Boys Productions.  I will be writing of review of that soon.  It’s an incredible game and made my Friday night.

I awoke with hopes that Saturday would get a little better.

One thing we have started in the past year at all our events is running our version of Killer, the Game of Assassination (Steve Jackson Games), specifically tooled for conventions.  We did this at MACE a lot until it got too difficult to run but now that smartphones are more prevalent, it is much easier to run.  We had a very successful game at MACE and MACE West.  I decided to throw a Star Wars theme on it and see how well it does at ConGregate.  Unfortunately, it was another casualty of the light gamer traffic but it is good enough that I am going to try it at MACE this year.

Things did pick up on Saturday.  We started pulling in more gamers and more gamer were making.   Warmachine had a lot of players and made the room look real busy.  I got to play several games. No Ordinary Gamers and the Hull Breach guys seemed to have a good flow of demos.  The new hotel and the new location of gaming seemed to help with the traffic issues they had last year. Also Pathfinder Society doubled in size and D&D AL did reasonably well also.  D&D seemed to fizzle out, however, and that might be because of some logistics that I will resolve next year.

One game that really impressed me is an0ther Kickstarter game called Space Movers.  We should have a game review up very soon.  I played it twice and bought the game immediately after.  I liked this game a lot and highly recommend it. I ran a session of Battle for Oz RPG with a good group of 4.  I wrote a short adventure that I kind of rushed through but I think they enjoyed it.  And finally I got to play Dead of Winter, which is an incredible game as well.  Saturday definitely was much more enjoyable than Friday and definitely picked my spirits up a little more.

I was overall pleased with the results on Saturday.  I think the move to a new location after last year might have reset things at least on the gaming side, so that it was more like a first year con again.  Now that they have a stable location, I think gamers will start turning out more and more now that we can show they were missing out.

Sunday was not all that different from Friday, which is no surprise.  We had to leave early because our family vacation started that week and we needed to get down to the beach as soon as possible.  It was safe enough to leave gaming on cruise control until the end of the con.

Other aspects of the con went rather well, from what I heard and saw.  My kids enjoyed the kids track.  ConGregate is one of the few cons that runs a kids track well.  They had a good hallway of fan tables including the 501st and the Mandalorian Mercs.  I got the chance to enjoy the costume contest, a little filk music and general schmoozing with some sci-fi authors I had not spoken to since I left the scene.  Most of the guests seemed reasonably pleased by the end of Saturday and I heard there were quite a few parties that night.

There will be a few changes made next year but all-in-all, I think gaming continues to show potential.  You can judge that potential by the peak times Saturday afternoon.  We were pretty busy Saturday afternoon. All we have to do is grow from that.  More board games, more general RPGs and move a few things around and I should have a good base.

 

 

 

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