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.