SCARAB 2015 – Columbia, SC

After a long hiatus from gaming conventions I managed to attend the SCARAB gaming convention in Columbia, SC for the Saturday sessions last year. See my review of last year’s convention here: http://thegamerscodex.com/index.php/scarab-2014/

This year I once again ventured down for Saturday. Again, registration online was easy. Last year I was told that all game registration was done on the Warhorn website. Knowing this ahead of time made it easy to schedule games, and I even managed to get into a game with people I knew from the local gaming group.

From the greater Rock Hill area it is an easy drive to the convention. Having attended last year I knew where to turn off to get to the Medallion center where the convention is held. The sun is right in your eyes as you turn off the highway. If you attend in the future, beware of that. It’s not far off I-77 at all. Turn right just past the Waffle House and you’ll be good.

This year I arrived about 15 minutes early. The doors were open and no one was in line at the registration desk. The very pleasant young lady looked through a box full of badges and found mine easily. No wristbands or looking up names on a phone this year. Looking around the desk I did not see anything resembling a program. Not a huge deal. It is mostly a gaming only convention. I was on my way towards the gaming room with time to spare.

I was there to play a few Pathfinder Society games. Once again PFS seems to be their most popular attraction. The PFS games were in the larger room just to the right of the lobby. Last year the tabletop wargames were in the large room and the PFS games were in the back room. This room is not square shaped and sound did not seem to resonate as much as it did in the other room last year. The tables were spaced out a little more. There was room to get past pretty much any table. Only when people were sitting very far from the table or had large bags or boxes behind their chair were there any issues. I looked for familiar faces to find my table. Once I found them I was pointed to the helpful poster on the wall with a list of scenarios and table numbers. I have to admit that was probably on the wall last year and I just never saw it.

My first session was a mid level scenario with two players from the group I occasionally play with in Fort Mill. It was a fun and challenging game. We finished a few minutes early as SCARAB has five-hour slots for the PFS games. A group went out for lunch so I did not partake in the in house food. I did see several people who did and the food looked and smelled good. I did purchase a drink and snack there. The prices were the same as last year. Not bad for convention food at all. They had a nice mix of water, sodas, coffee, snacks, candy bars, cookies and more.

Back before the second slot, I took a tour of the convention center. One room held the kids track. I walked by it a few times and it seemed to be relatively calm and managed nicely. One large room held general gaming and the vendors. Several game store vendors were selling their wares along with a jeweler and the fun people from Geek Forge. The next large room held RPG tables and the wargame tables. As last year there was a lot of gorgeous terrain. I watched a few minutes of a game or two. I have to admit to being an ex-40K player who enjoys watching the extreme opposite battle of Tau versus Tyranids. This room was probably ¾ full all day. Walking past the lobby and across from the PFS room, there was a room for Anime and video games. The several times I walked by some group games were being played  – DDR, rock band type games and such. Around the start time of the last slot of the day a costume contest was held in this room. I saw around 10 contestants and some pretty darn good costumes. I checked their site to see who the winner was. I hope it was the young lady who came dressed as ‘Mother of Dragons.” Her Game of Thrones inspired costume was wonderfully accessorized by her two daughters dressed as dragons. The back room (where PFS was last year) held the LARP games. I saw maybe six to ten people here off and on all day. At either end of the building were the bathrooms. I did notice that the bathrooms and trashcans were cleaned more than once during the day.

My second session was with a bunch of people I did not know, but that’s part of the experience. A low level PFS game this time, lots of fun. The gamemaster really got into character with his NPC’s and obviously enjoys doing so. Once again the session ended early. I walked to an outside establishment for dinner. When I came back I saw several people with what looked and smelled like delicious Chinese food from the concession area.

For the last slot I decided to not venture into the PFS special. I did witness the muster and it seemed to go better than last years. Apparently the decision was made kind of last minute to move the other PFS games into other gaming areas. We were sent to the general RPG room but had no trouble finding a table. It was another great game, a good scenario with fun players. The last slot started at 8:00 and we were done a little after 11:00. I looked into the main room and it appeared that the special was still in full swing.

Compared to last year the few scheduling and management issues I noticed were pretty much cleared up. For the price it is definitely a fun gaming convention. If you are near Columbia, SC and are into PFS, look them up. Even if you are not, it looked like quite a few other games made their tables. Maybe next year I’ll go for more than one day…

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.

SCARAB 2013 – Columbia, SC

SCARAB is something that is taking the gaming community by storm in the Carolinas.  Del Collins and his team have put on a gaming con in Columbia, SC for the past 3 years.  With a clear vision, solid staff and good leadership, SCARAB has developed a solid foundation that is going to do nothing but grow and flourish over the next several years.  However, SCARAB is more than just the con.  SCARAB is actually the organization behind the con as well as dozens of game days throughout the year, throughout South Carolina and northern Georgia.  So the SCARAB Convention is just one facet of what they do for the gaming community but it’s the culmination of all their efforts the previous year.

Justus Productions has gone each year for the past 3 years for Friday and Saturday.  For the past 2 years, SCARAB the convention has been a 4-day event spanning the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  It is held in a very interesting place – a Scottish Rite center in Columbia, SC, along with some space in a Days Inn two doors down.  However, this is the last year they will be using the Scottish Rite Center as they are moving across the street to a much larger space next year.

Admittedly, Jeff and I do not stay the whole time but that’s the best he and I can do with family and wife obligations.  We try to make the best of our time, however, and SCARAB supplies plenty of opportunity.  There is always a whole host of games to choose from.  In the past, the hard part was finding them and signing up.  It seems that they have refined their system enough that it’s easier to find games now.  They use the Warhorn for the games that have limited seats and need sign up, while the demos are available anytime.  They also have one of the largest game libraries I have seen at smaller cons of this nature and a good staff manning it as well as plenty of people willing to teach what games they know – and they know quite a few.

The location is not the most ideal, I’ll admit.  In three years of attending, I have always felt it kind of awkward in the space.  But I understand why they use it – it was easy and cheap until they can build their war-chest enough to move to a bigger space.  They pack in a lot of tables in both the main room and the auditorium.  It’s usually pretty tight but most gamers don’t seem to mind.  They don’t have a dealers room per se, but dealers do line the walls of the main room , which is an interesting twist.  In total, they can probably host about 200 to 220 people uncomfortably and by peak times, they are pretty close to that.

Two doors down at the host hotel (a Days Inn), they also use space there for miniature war games like Warhammer 40K gaming.  On average, they have 20 to 30 gamers in there at any given time.  This year, they hosted a qualifier for the Carolina Gun Bunnies Invitational, which is held at MACE in Charlotte.  That area was very busy with lots of Privateer Press Warmachine and Hordes gaming.

The best asset SCARAB has is its staff.  They have on a given day, 15 to 20 individuals in SCARAB shirts walking around making sure things are going smoothly for everyone.  It’s quite obvious they care about the time people are spending here and want to make sure it is worth the money you spent to get in.

One of the few complaints I have about this year’s SCARAB was the over-abundance of one RPG on the schedule.  Del, owner and manager of SCARAB, is also the local Pathfinder Society (PFS) coordinator and it felt like PFS was way too prominent on the schedule.  Don’t get me wrong, I am in full support of Pathfinder and Paizo.  I love Pathfinder and what they have done with it. However, if I want to appeal to a more broad base of gamers, I would make a stronger effort to have more of other games.  There were a few Savage Worlds games and some tables of Time Warriors, an Open D6 game by Fourth Dimension Studios, but not a whole lot more than that.  This may have been a space issue.  If so, with the new place they are moving to, this is easily solved.  More space means more opportunity.

I am not a huge fan of the Warhorn site either.  It is a marked improvement from what they had done in the past, but there are other tools out there that do it better.

One of the reasons both Jeff and I like attending SCARAB is because we get a chance to play games.  Last year, we played a ton.  This year, we played one (Star Munchkin), which we thoroughly enjoyed.  The rest of the weekend was spent chatting with other con organizers and gaming professionals, trading war stories.  It was a true pleasure to chat with people like Foruth Dimension Studios, Empire Games, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Beautiful Brains Books and Games, and StormCon as well as SCARAB.  That’s another reason we enjoy SCARAB – a more relaxed chance to chat with people we know from MACE.

2014 is a long way off, but I do look forward to seeing SCARAB in its new location, with more space and more stuff.  They are adding an anime track, expanding their appeal to anime fans.  I admire the diversity and the willingness to expand outside the gaming focus.  SCARAB wins the good citizen award from the Carolina gaming community for their efforts with their con as well as all the gaming they do throughout their area.  They work with many of the major publishers, manufacturers, and distributors to work deals to get more and more game events out there for you to play at.  And the SCARAB Convention is just one big example of that.