Lexicon, a gaming con from Lexington, KY to visit MACE

MACE 2015 will host some friends from Lexington, KY that run a gaming con called Lexicon.  We thought we’d ask them a few questions and help everyone get to know them.  We interviewed  Greg Franseth (Lexicon COO), Chris Grzywacz, Josh Dunne, and Rob Slevin.

Tells a little about yourself and your experience in gaming?  What are your preferred game types – RPGs, tabletop board/card games, mini/war games?  What is your role at Lexicon? 
JD: I grew up in the golden age of consoles…Atari 2600, NES, Genesis, Playstation, etc. and was a huge video game junkie through my early teens.  Then I moved on to LAN parties and networked PC gaming through college and my early 20’s.  I never really got into board games until my 30’s.  I’d play basketball for a few hours at night and then we’d head back to a buddy’s house and shoot the crap over recovery beers.  One night he said “Hey, check this out,” and throws a box with a ton of cards in it on the table.  It was Dominion.  I picked it up and in a couple hands was hooked hard.  I bought pandemic when it first started making waves as a game that my wife and I could play when my son was stuck in the NICU for a couple weeks.  It helped pass the time.  And my interest just blossomed from there.  I love deckbuilders and Ameritrash games for tabletop.  But my latest crush is on X-Wing miniatures.  I’ve spent more money than I want to know on tiny Star Wars ships. I play weekly with friends and just fell hard for the concept and the pure geek factor that I’m flying Star Wars ships around and blasting rebel scum out of the air.   
Last year was my first gaming convention ever.  And I did it not as an attendee but as the coordinator at the library.  I helped organize the inventory, space, volunteers, checkout, “learn to play” pull list and “play to win” check outs and drawings.  Chris and Greg offered me the opportunity to expand my role with the convention as a partner, which I’m still growing into.  This year I’ve got multiple responsibilities.  We have a library of games that is swelling to be over 1300 between several different sources.  I’m trying to come up with a good electronic inventory and check-out system to better track our data metrics of game checkouts and possibly tie that directly back to badges using bar coding.  I’m still in the initial discovery of that process.  We don’t have a lot of excess cash, so it’s a difficult task working with freeware and other options that are out there.

My other responsibilities are helping keep an eye out for vending and marketing opportunities.  Finding individuals or organizations that we can offer a mutual assistance to and help promote each other’s activities.  With that also comes the work of diving into online communities (reddit, forums, etc.) and establishing a presence there to promote ourselves.  I also help ambassador our local meetup groups by greeting and playing matchmaker at the events.  It’s where we find some of best volunteers and coordinators.  (In fact, my wife and I were introduced to Chris this way.)
In addition to those above, I’m going to be MC’ing one of our party events, coming up with some party games and keeping the atmosphere fun for a few hours in a much more casual atmosphere.
GF:  I’ve been gaming since I was a child. I played my dad’s old bookshelf games: Acquire, Bazaar, Vegas, Works of Wall Street. I moved from there to war games, where I lived for the eighties and nineties. Then I discovered Catan and the like. I have become a serious collector. I was the traveling gamer on the Dice Tower for 4 years and I also ran the boardgames pirate cast. Additionally, I was the only person to successfully cosplay a strictly board game (dixit) at Gencon.
I am owner of Lexicon. I operate the schedule and everything that comes off of it. Though I did my time with D&D, I’m a board gamer.
CG: I am Chris, a founder and marketing/CFO coordinator of LexiCon.  I started gaming a lot about 3 years ago.  I have about 80+ games (I know, I am a lightweight).  In general, gaming is a lot about who I am gaming with, so I like a game where there is some interaction without being too simplistic or too completed.  If it can do this, then I am going to like it.   Since I have two teenage daughters, I really enjoy co-op games like Sentinels of the Multiverse (my favorite).  We also play a lot of the different DC Deck builders (because that is their favorite), in addition to Among the Stars, Guildhall, Valley of the Kings, and of course Dominion (the new one, Adventures, is by far their best expansion)!
Tell us a little about Lexicon?  Its nature?  Its goals?  Its beginnings?
JDChris, Greg and Rob can probably answer better as I’m somewhat new to the group.  It’s only our second annual event so we are still going through some identity and overall soul searching of how big and where we want to take this.  At it’s heart, we are a tabletop gaming convention.  We want to offer people the opportunity to play games, learn games, and win games.  We want to embrace most of the major table top styles and make sure that all gamers are given a chance to participate in a weekend of very casual and enjoyable gaming.  While we are primarily a tabletop oriented gaming event, we have seen a massive growth of RPG and LARP’ing attendance.  Last year we had almost 60 larpers and even more than that in RPG’ers.  Theres a lot of room for growth in those areas if we can market and embrace it.  

We do have some great tournament activities including a Pandemic Survival, Catan, King of Tokyo and X-Wing.  The Pandemic in particular was incredibly popular.  We also embrace cosplay, vending, and seminars.  We really don’t discriminate as to the nature and style.  Most everything is welcome and adds flavor to the weekend.   On Friday and Saturday nights we have carved a niche for a 21+ party.  One of our largest sponsors is a local brewery and they provide beer on those nights.  We had 80 people pay for the Saturday night party last year.  We had over 20 people playing Werewolf, around 30 people playing organized party games (silly stuff, Break the Ice, Ants in the Pants, other cheesy dexterity games) and the rest were playing Cards Against Humanity and other sorts of casual party games.  It’s a good time and adds an additional flare to what we do with our Con. 
Our goals are still a bit in development as to where and how we want to go.  I think long term we see us growing at a modest rate year after year with RPG’s being a big part of that.  I also think we have an enormous amount of local population with younger families we can market and bring in.  One of my personal goals for the con is try and really get local families involved on the Sunday of our convention and boost our attendance numbers and awareness through that demographic.  Plus we get younger families and kids involved in our hobby and grow organically through that.
CGI think LexiCon has some great advantages over many small conventions.  First, we have a huge library for a con of this size (thanks to Greg, the other founder, he owns 800 + of those games).  Also, we have over 100 different gaming events throughout the weekend.  So you have over a 100 different options to choose from.  We rarely run the same game twice, unless there is a significant demand; like our Pandemic Survival event!  This was a one-hour tournament where teams of 2 competed against other players to be the most efficient and be the last team to be overrun by the viruses!  We practiced it with our coordinators and had a blast, and it was also extremely popular at the convention.  We will be doing at least 3 versions next year!

I love gaming and want to give a shout out to GenCon for showing me how much fun a gaming convention can be and my friends Marc and Brian from GrandCon and Travis from CharCon for their support and inspiring us to hold our own convention.

How would you characterize the gaming scene in your area of Kentucky?
JD: We have a 30,000+ state university in the middle of town and a booming hipster scene of young entrepreneurs opening breweries, bars, restaurants, cafes, and other chic and energetic businesses.  Our sponsor is one of these guys and we have meetups there twice a month.  We are seeing attendance in the 30’ish range on those nights and we are seeing tons of new faces each week we go there.  We have a huge range of gaming demographics from young college kids all the way up to empty nesters and retirees looking for things to do.  We see all ranges of games hit tables from easy filler card games all the way up to heavy 4E space type games.  On Wednesday nights we have another meetup group of a much more tight knit core group that plays all sorts of things at a gaming store in town.  We get a good range of demographics and personalities between those two.  It’s great to see just how infectious this hobby is and the different people that it interests. I’m also working to build up and organize some X-wing/Attack Wing groups that aren’t as formal and fold them into our convention.
GFLexington is a small market. I ran the primary board game group for 7 years. I’m in Cincinnati now.
Is Lexicon primarily a board gaming con or are there other types of games there? Is it fairly open formatted or are there scheduled games as well?
JDI mostly covered this earlier, so I’ll keep it shorter.  We are at the core, a board gaming convention.  However, we are seeing very high participation levels in RPG and LARP’ing.  We also brought in an Artemis simulation group last year that did a computer based space ship bridge simulator for groups of 5 people that was very cool and very well received.  We plan to bring them in again next year.  Minis/war games have not been a large focus.  They take up a large amount of space and the groups that play are a lot more private than the other gaming types.  It’s been a hard nut to crack.
GF: We have over 100 scheduled events. On the other hand, our open library is over 1000 games. 
What brings you to MACE?  How do you think MACE can help you?
JDSeveral things.  One, I’ve only been to one other convention so I’m really trying to build on my experience there and get a feel for what makes a con a con.  I want to see what others are doing, what seems to generate the most interest and see what games are popular right now.  I’d love to check out your registration process, library handling and your learn to play organization and coordination. I’d also love to go to a convention where I can spend a lot of my time actually gaming and socializing instead of running my rear off like a lunatic taking care of con tasks.  😀
GF: I grew up in Charlotte, and Steve Avery really enjoyed mace. I do what Steve tells me. 
What are your hopes and dreams for Lexicon 15 years from now?
JD: Honestly, no clue.  Can’t even imagine where we will be.  My personal opinion is that table top gaming is starting to hit a bit of a peak and there’s sooooo many games out that it’s going to start working against us.  So many misses it’s hard to find the hits in games.  I think we are where console games were during the hayday of the Xbox 360/Nintendo Wii/PS3 where the growth was incredible and there were just piles and piles of great games.  But I think we’ll see a bit of a decline soon and level out.  How much that affects us, I don’t really know.  What we do, we do well and I think that will keep us going for a long time.  I think long term I see us more of a smaller Origins where you go to play games vs. a GenCon where it’s a spectacle and more of a shopping/hype experience.  I can’t and won’t speculate on attendance numbers other to say that I’m quite confident we have the population sizes within 90 minutes any direction of us to easily triple our 500 badge attendance last year without a ton of effort.
Convention space is going to be an issue for us.  We have a great rate on our space now but can’t go a whole lot bigger without going up in space.  But the next leap in space is very expensive and we won’t have that immediate growth to support that overhead.  We’ll have to get creative in how we expand while still keeping our costs in check.  We are also regionally close (3 hours) and timeline close to Origins and Gencon.  So we have some very large gaming conventions going on that we can’t (and don’t want to) compete with.  Our bread and butter is offering a casual, approachable and enjoyable gaming experience.  If we get too big then it starts to take away from that and our core attendance may start to to drop.  We want it to be easy to play games and not turn it into a elbow to elbow circus.
GFMy goal is that it will always be open and unique.