Now, its Time to begin planning for Next Year’s Cardboard Wars in Tempe, Arizona!

As regular visitors to this blog may or may not already know, I was not able to really participate in this year’s convention — at least, not the way that I would have liked to — because of logistical issues that popped up, unexpectedly, just days before CSW Expo 2011 was ready to start. I won’t bore my readers with all the sordid details of my travails except to note that, for me to have attended the whole event from beginning to end, it would have required that I drive a bit over 120 miles each and every day of the convention. Putting aside the issue of gasoline prices, the sheer amount of travel time required by such a project was ultimately enough, by itself, to dissuaded me from making the attempt: forty years ago, maybe; but not now; not at my age.

Thankfully, my wife of almost thirty-six years, seeing my obvious disappointment, came up with a serendipitous alternative: since it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to spend enough time at the convention to actually play any of my favorite games, why not just visit the event and record a few of my impressions to share with those of my readers who were unable to attend this year’s Expo? Obviously, this wasn’t my first choice, but in view of my transportation predicament, it seemed like a capital idea. So to make a long story short, I decided to follow my wife’s excellent advice; and hence, what follows are a few personal observations about this year’s CSW Expo that, had I actually been able to attend for the full week, I would probably never have even noticed, much less commented on here! Hopefully, those of my readers who actually attended this year’s Expo will agree with most of my observations, and those who did not, will at least find them illuminating.

Tempe Mission Palms entrance.
To begin with, although a lot of different elements actually influence how a typical wargamer ultimately comes to view his or her overall convention experience, one of the things that tend to make a lasting impression is the convention venue, itself. This year’s CSW Expo 2011/MonsterGame.Con XI, just as those of years past, took place at the Tempe Mission Palms Resort and Convention Center. By an odd coincidence, the Mission Palms was familiar to me long before John Kranz first chose it as a convention site because, back in the mid-eighties, my wife oversaw the installation of the newly-built hotel’s first hotel management computer system. And, some years later, I attended graduate school at ASU which is right down the street. [This also meant, by the way, that I and my wife knew that the guest parking was located at the back, and not at the front of the hotel, so we didn’t have to drive around looking for a parking spot.] Of course, a lot has changed in Tempe in the intervening years, but the Mission Palms is pretty much the same as it was back then: a nicely-appointed, southwestern-style hotel with a convenient downtown location. If there is any change at all, it is that there is now, within easy walking distance of the hotel, even more to see and do than there was in years past. For CSW Expo attendees without their own cars, this means that neither they nor their families are hostages of the convention center’s own food and beverage outlets when it comes to either guest dining or entertainment.

Tempe Mission Palms courtyard.
The various game-related venues for this year’s convention (to include the seminar center and the publishers’ showrooms) were — except for the game “auction” which, as I recall, was held upstairs — mostly laid out in a series of adjacent meeting rooms. These ground-level rooms ringed a nicely-shaded courtyard where, if players felt the need, they could adjourn for refreshment. The fact that these rooms were close together and on the first floor was no small thing, at least for me. Being forced to trudge all over a hotel looking for the right meeting room, or climbing up and down stairs (or even waiting for an elevator) with an armload of games is a hassle that, given my druthers, I — and I suspect most other gamers — would just as soon avoid. In one sense, of course, this type of convenience would be impossible if the CSW convention was a lot bigger. And yet, oddly enough, although the Consimworld Expo is probably only about one-eighth the size of the WBC Convention in terms of total attendance, it doesn’t really feel all that much smaller. I suspect that this is because, when I attend the tournament convention in Lancaster, I pretty much tend to stay — except when I go for food, drink, or back to my room — in the same gaming area for the entire week! There may be a lot of other people scattered around the hotel, but I rarely see them. Also, another real advantage of attending a smaller event like the CSW Expo is that attendees — if they are so inclined — have much better access both to hands-on demonstration games, and to expert guests like this year’s Frank Chadwick and John Hill, than they would ever have at one of the larger conventions.

John Kranz
One relatively small thing that I missed, but that my wife — having been in the hospitality business — noticed immediately, was the quality of the guest chairs in the main ballroom. I don’t know what John did to pull it off, but those chairs (arm rests and all) were vastly superior to the typical “banquet” chairs found at most hotel-based conventions. Another feature that I noticed in the course of my wanderings was that, unlike almost any other convention that I can think of, the CSW Expo still permits private “flea market” sales and doesn’t force its attendees to sell their used games exclusively via the “house” auction.

As I and my wife strolled through the various gaming areas, one fact gradually impressed itself on me; that is: if convention-goers want to truly get the most out of their once-a-year trip to Tempe, they need to plan well ahead. In the case of the different “big” games associated with MonsterGame.Con this is pretty obvious; it is also why the CSW Expo registration website offers pre-convention game sign-ups. However, not so obvious (at least to me) was the fact that — because the Expo is not a tournament convention — for those attendees who plan to play some of their favorite games, it is probably a good idea to use the various CSW game forums to line up a few of their matches in advance. Certainly open-gaming opportunities abound, and "game-systems" oriented convention-goers should have no difficulty finding pick-up opponents for most of the newer titles from major companies like Avalanche Press, Clash of Arms, Columbia Games, Decision Games, GMT, Multi-Man Publishing, or Victory Point Games, as well as those from the usual collection of "Euros". However, if a player has his or her heart set on playing a specific, older title such as HAMMER OF THE SCOTS (2002) or BITTER WOODS (1998/2003), or an even older (long out-of-print) Avalon Hill, GDW, Conflict Games, Victory Games, OSG, or SPI/TSR game, then setting-up a few prearranged matches is probably a good idea; if nothing else, it will save an attendee from wasting a lot of his or her precious convention time, roaming around looking for pick-up games in their preferred titles. [John Kranz, it should be noted, did set up a sign-up sheet for SPI games, but I still think that firming up a few "guaranteed" matches is a good idea.] On the other hand, because the CSW Expo offers its attendees such a broad spectrum of different game-related options, mapping out too much of one’s convention schedule in advance is also probably not a good idea.

Frank Chadwick playtests a game.
It goes without saying, of course, that gamers do not travel to conventions like Consimworld Expo/MonsterGame.Con because they are looking forward to the destination hotel’s amenities or because they want to visit the local tourist haunts; they make the trip — often, I should note, at great personal expense — because they expect to have a good time. In this regard, all the careful preparation in the world on the part of the event organizers counts for nothing if the convention experience, as a whole, is not a positive one. [This is why, for example, I gave up on Origins long, long ago: the event just ceased to be enjoyable for me, personally.] And this positive atmosphere depends, more than anything else, on the personalities and behavior of the attendees, themselves. For my own part, I don’t know how I would have viewed the whole event if I had spent the entire week huddled over a monster game map with a small band of like-minded grognards, but my overall impression of the convention — gained by observing a variety of different games and players — was that the vast majority of attendees (of all ages) were exactly the kind of high-caliber gamers one hopes to meet at a convention: skillful, friendly, helpful both to beginners and passersby; and most important of all, genuinely good-natured, whether winning or losing. I confess that the demeanor of the different attendees — even for an old “tournament shark” like me — gave the whole convention a “vibe” that was thoroughly enjoyable both to see and to feel.

Die hards seated comfortably with courtyard view.
 All good things, as they say, come to and end; and early on Sunday, I and my wife made one last trip to the Tempe Mission Palms just so I could watch this year’s CSW Expo finally wind down. By noon, pretty much as I had expected, there were only a few games still going so we decided to call it a day. On the long drive home, I mentally reviewed what I had seen in the preceding days and decided that, although I wasn’t really sorry that I had played the role of an uninvolved, neutral observer this time around; next year, I would definitely do things differently. Which is to say, when it came to the 2012 convention, I resolved to do whatever it took — even if it meant driving 120 miles a day — to attend every session of the entire week-long event. I guess one could say that, by Sunday afternoon, I had seen enough to know that the CSW Expo was just too worthwhile a gaming experience to miss two years in a row.

To find out more about next year’s CSW Expo/MonsterGame.Con and its many fabulous game-related activities, visit the website.

For those readers who would like a "player's eye view" of this year's convention, I strongly recommend Ric VD’s Consimworld Convention Walkabout Video .


  • I was there all week, and what a week it was! I never talk so much in all my life as when I go to this convention. This is the fourth time I've gone, after a few years away, and I think I have yet to play an actual game - I did help to playtest several other people's games, and they mine, but I don't think I've ever played a published game there yet.

    It woudl have been nice to meet and have a chat.

  • Greetings Itmurnau:

    Yes, I would have liked to have been able to have spent the whole week at the convention, rather than (as my wife described it) lurking in the background during my several short visits to the Mission Palms. Unfortunately, for me to have even spent a single full day at the convention would have created incredible hardship for my wife (a year or so after I retired, I sold my truck) as she would have had to drop me off in Tempe and then would have had to drive back to her office all the way on the other side of Phoenix by 6:30 AM. Needless-to-say, that just wouldn't work; so, instead, we drove over to Tempe on a couple of weekday evenings and again on Sunday, just so I could quietly poke around and get a sense of how this year's Expo was shaping up. Everything, by the way, looked great!

    The moral of this story is that, whatever else happens, I won't allow myself to be put in the same awkward logistical situation next year. So, assuming I live that long, you can probably count on me being at the 2012 CSW Expo for the entire week!

    Sorry I missed you thus year, but
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Sounds like a plan Joe.

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