Gaming Convention Review

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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.

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