Tips on Preparing for Your First War Gaming Convention
At some point, almost everyone who regularly plays war games will get the urge to attend a war game convention in order to try their luck in tournament competition. After all, where else can a war gamer spend days on end doing nothing but playing games, while surrounded by other people with the same passionate interest in this somewhat eccentric hobby. I know the feeling well. When this bug bites — and for regular war gamers, it will — players will quickly discover that there are a number of war gaming conventions, all organized around tournaments, which they can attend.
Consimworld holds a major tournament convention, the “Expo,” every spring in Phoenix, AZ, and Don Greenwood’s Boardgame Players Association (BPA) conducts a number of different tournaments of varying sizes, year-round. However, with the biggest and best tournament, the World Boardgaming Championships® (WBC) Convention — August 3rd through 10th, in Lancaster, PA — just around the corner, I thought that now might be a good time to offer the prospective first-time attendee a few tips on surviving and enjoying their maiden sojourn at a major war gaming tournament. So, with that goal in mind, here are a few “Dos” and “Don’ts” that, hopefully, will help make this first trip the exciting, fun experience that it should be.
CONVENTION and TOURNAMENT DOs
- Register with the convention organizers early. If you plan ahead, you are virtually guaranteed of getting a place in the tournaments that you want. Early registration also often saves a little money on entry fees, and gets you access to the “events calendar” so that you won’t inadvertently register for tournaments that have conflicting schedules.
- Make all of your travel and hotel arrangements well in advance, this will not only save you money, but also probably “peace of mind.” Also, bring along enough cash to cover incidentals such as tips, snacks, and convention purchases. Not everything can be charged on a credit card, so plan accordingly to save on ATM fees.
- Bring along copies of any games that you expect to play; also, bring along an extra title or two, just in case you get knocked out of your tournament events in the early going. Remember, besides the competitive events, war game conventions also offer a fabulous opportunity for lots of “open gaming,” so be prepared to take advantage of it.
- Pack enough changes of clothing to get you through the entire convention! I guarantee that you are not going to take the time to visit a Laundromat, and almost nobody, except maybe Warren Buffet, is willing to pay the hotel laundry $5.00 to get their underwear washed.
- Eat something besides “junk food.” While it is admittedly hard to tear yourself away from the game table for extended periods of time, it is also hard to keep yourself functioning in top form day-after-day on a diet of potato chips, pizza, and sodas. In short, take the time to eat one real meal, at least, every day.
- Get some sleep. The initial excitement of the non-stop gaming may keep you going for awhile, but adrenalin, or alcohol for that matter, will not carry you through to the end. I know, because I’ve tried it.
- Bring your cell phone “recharger” so that you can call home, at least once every day. The convention venue is going to be hectic and exciting, but spouses and family members are probably going to want periodic proof that you are still alive. Give it to them; believe me, regular phone calls will keep you out of trouble when you finally arrive back at the old homestead.
- Arrive at your tournament sites early and with a copy of the tournament game under your arm. This will, besides making points with the tournament GM, also give you a chance to set your game up early, and to look over any last minute changes in tournament rules or guidelines.
- Finally, go! There are no gaming experiences that quite match those of a major war gaming convention, so if you have the opportunity to attend, do so. Not only will you have a great time, but you will also meet some great fellow gamers. Many of my current friendships were first made decades ago at previous tournaments; and I would be incalculably poorer today, if I had never met them!
CONVENTION and TOURNAMENT DON’Ts
- Leave everything till the last minute. Make all of your travel, hotel, and tournament bookings well in advance. Trying to cobble final arrangements together after you arrive at the convention site can be both frustrating and incredibly stressful. Trust me; things will be intense enough without this kind of unnecessary aggravation. And yes, I know that I mentioned this subject earlier, but it is important enough to merit repeating.
- Argue with your Game Masters. These dedicated, tireless volunteers are giving up a lot so that you and your fellow attendees can have a good time. And for their efforts they get little except for the knowledge that one of their favorite games can be included in the convention’s tournament schedule. If you have what you consider to be a valid question, criticism, or complaint take it up with the GM privately and respectfully. Most GMs are only too willing to hear you out, so give them a chance. Remember, if your discussion turns into an argument, you are going to lose, and you may even be kicked out of the tournament, altogether.
- Kibitz from the sidelines while someone else’s game is in progress. Not only is this type of behavior rude and disruptive, but it can also affect the concentration and play of the real players. Watching a game quietly is fine; offering a move-by-move critique of someone else’s play is not.
- Drink to excess, either in public or in private, anywhere around the convention venue. While most of us — particularly the old “grognards” — enjoy having a drink or two with friends at the conclusion of a long day of gaming; that is not the same as hanging around the hotel bar, night after night, until the bartender finally shouts “last call”. For the hotel staff and the other guests, their only impression of us and our hobby is the one we give during our time at the tournament. It would be nice if the impression that we leave them with is a good one.
- Disrespect your fellow convention-goers and their property. Nobody invested their money to attend the convention in order to hear your complaints about your fellow players, or the tournament GMs. Also, don’t touch someone else’s games or gaming paraphernalia without asking their permission first. Most gamers are incredibly helpful and generous; don’t give them a reason to regret their amiability. This also means, by the way, no eating or drinking around someone else’s game if there is the tiniest possibility that the afore-mentioned eating or drinking might cause a spill or a stain. This is what the hotel’s food outlets are for.
- Finally, don’t complain or carp about the hotel, the food outlets, or the convention organizers. Everybody already knows that hotels — all hotels — are expensive, and that the food and drinks are a lot pricier than at your neighborhood pizzeria, so save it for your friends back home. And if you think that the convention or tournaments are being poorly run, go ahead and make some private, respectful suggestions to the tournament organizers. However, if you are really thoroughly dissatisfied, then your path is clear: organize your own war gaming convention, and then we will all see if you can do any better.
As I stated at the beginning of this essay, attending your first war gaming convention, particularly one of the truly big ones, can be an introduction to a whole new set of fantastic gaming experiences. For the dedicated war gamer, there really is nothing else that is comparable. But attitude is everything. If the prospective first-time attendee will observe these few simple “DOs” and “DON’Ts,” I’m convinced that he or she (women attend these conventions too, by the way) will have a great time at their first tournament outing, and that that initial convention will not end up being their last.
This concludes Part One of this set of posts. Part Two will look at actual tournament play, and some of the gaming habits of successful tournament players.