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PrezCon 2014

The first game convention I attended after my long hiatus from the hobby was PrezCon 2004. I used to go alternate years but I’ve been going consistently at the end of February for several years now.

PrezCon is a relatively small friendly board and card game convention in Charlottesville Virginia at a Doubletree Hotel. There are no RPGs, no miniatures to speak of, no CCGs, no video games. Most of the players are gray-haired Baby Boomers, although there is a smattering of younger players as well. It uses the same format as the World Boardgaming Championships, you pay a single fee and play it in as many tournaments as you can squeeze in. There are not quite as many tournaments as at WBC, and they are generally smaller because the attendance is about 3/8 of WBC attendance (for example 15 in the Britannia tournament in a good year compared to 40 at WBC). But there’s lots of competition. There’s also an auction, an auction store (where I bought a 2008 copy of Risk for four dollars for the peculiar arrow pieces), and a large open gaming area. Where WBC offers half a dozen or more talks, there is only one at PrezCon (that I give, and that gets about half a dozen in attendance).

There are game vendors as well, some of them publishers such as Worthington Publications, GMT, and Mayfair Games. Two of those three are wargame publishers and that’s reflected in the tournaments and open play, with many more wargames and you would see at GenCon. The vendors are set up from Friday through Sunday though they are packing up by midday Sunday.

Justin Thompson and company have PrezCon running like a well oiled machine in its 20th year. When Justin was temporarily laid low by illness his partner Grant Dalgliesh took care of things.

Owing to work reasons my friend and I arrived Thursday night instead of Wednesday night this year, and I miss the extra day to talk with people. (I don’t play games at conventions and never have: I can play games at home. And as some of you know I’m not that big into playing games other than D&D, which we definitely don’t see at PrezCon.) We usually stay until Sunday mid-afternoon because he usually plays in the Roborally finals (which he won for the fourth time). Just as at WBC and Origins, by that time almost everyone has left and it’s quite dead. I think GenCon stays alive somewhat longer though I have had to leave before noon because of a very long trip home. It’s a great contrast to the UK Game Expo a few years ago, where I had a talk scheduled at 1 PM on Sunday and the audience filled the large room, as well as for the talk after that. I suppose because Great Britain is relatively small and train travel is common, people don’t feel the need to leave as early as they do at American game conventions.

At one point I recruited a friend who had played the game the year before to playtest one of my prototypes with a publisher. He asked me privately whether he should go easy on the other player. I wouldn’t tell anyone to do that as it is slightly disrespectful to the other player, and in any case the publisher needed to see what the game could really do, so I told him know do the best you can. And he won the game fairly easily, showing that there’s something worth learning in the game (as opposed to some transparent games where experience doesn’t seem to make much difference).

As I have observed at other conventions, especially those that are strictly board and card games, there are striking cultural differences if you take the time to notice. Non-white gamers are very rare at PrezCon, just as they are at WBC. They are much more noticeable at conventions that include RPGs, CCGs, art and written fiction, and so forth.

One friend saw a lot more “friction” in the game playing this year, though I noticed a lot less than last year. Friction as in rule arguments and even one occasion of possible cheating. Yet when a friend of mine played his first game of Britannia in the tournament he found that the players gave him genuinely good advice rather than trying to con him with poor advice, and he won the game. The wargamers are not quite like Eurostyle players who often seem to be collectively solving a puzzle and discussing what the best move would be, but they do want new players to enjoy the games. I have a friend who doesn’t go to PrezCon because he doesn’t want to tangle with the “sharks”, the really good players, nonetheless I think it’s a pretty friendly and mostly laid-back group considering the level of competition.

My talk this year was about strategic wargame design. There were lots of comments and questions that my recorder couldn’t pick up so I need to edit it before I post it on my website for anyone who wants to listen. The PowerPoint slides that I made for it are already posted at Don’t leave out that 1.

[The original of this includes some photos:

I now host (through Fedora) my online audiovisual courses at . They are still on at higher prices. They include “Learning Game Design”, “Brief Introduction to Game Design”, and “Get a Job in the Video Game Industry”. I will very soon be opening a course “How to Design Levels/Adventures for Video and Tabletop Games”. Some time after that I’ll open “How to Write Clear Rules (and Game Design Documents)”.

YouTube Game Design channel:

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blog | by Dr. Radut