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.


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.