Thoughts About "DonCons" Past, Present, and Future

This past Sunday, August 7th, was the final day of the 2011 WBC Convention; and, I confess that a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I watched the minutes slowly tick by on Sunday morning. Assuming this year's convention followed the same course as those of the recent past, I knew that things would probably limp along to a close for the last die-hard attendees by about noon. In my mind's eye I could see the main gaming areas, no longer teaming with attendees, but with a few isolated pockets of players here and there still surrounded by the signs, "kiosks", and other paraphernalia left over from the convention. By mid-morning, of course, the hotel staff would begin the process of tearing down and stacking the banquet tables and chairs that had, only hours before, been the focus of days of intense gaming activity. A few players, I was sure, would hang on to the absolute bitter end: I well know the urgency felt by many of those last few convention holdouts as they desperately tried to get in just one more game before packing up and beginning their individual journeys home. I know all this, in spite of the fact that I was unable to attend this year's gathering in Lancaster, because my own convention-going experiences have all followed pretty much the same general pattern over the years: exultation and excitement upon first arriving at the convention site; but then followed by a gradual and inexorable (day-by-day) slide into an unshakable funk by the morning of the last day. The experiences of other wargamers may vary (particularly for those who attend more than one or two conventions a year), but that is the way it has always been for me; and I really don't expect it to change.

Before there can be a last day for a convention, of course, there must also be a first. And the first day of a well-run wargame convention is one of those few happy experiences that, at least for me, never diminishes in its excitement no matter how many times it is repeated. In that sense, I suppose, the first emotional response that I get upon arriving at a convention site is more than a bit like the anticipation that Christmas morning holds for children; the difference is that, as the years have passed, holidays mean less and less to me, but the thrill of walking into the hosting site's lobby and seeing the other gamers (friends and strangers, alike) queueing up to register just never loses its appeal. I personally hate crowds; but this is perhaps the only crowd that I actually enjoy mixing with. In any case, after check-in is completed, there follows the rapid trek to one's hotel room; the hurried unpacking of clothes and games; and then, most satisfying of all, the short but intense internal debate as to which games to bring along, and which to leave behind, before dashing off to the gaming areas. Even for an old grognard like me, it just doesn't get any better than that!

My old friend, Greg Smith plays Afrika Korps.
Nowadays, most tournament-style conventions, besides being longer (which is good), tend to schedule many of their most important events on the last few days (usually Friday and Saturday) of their tournament calendars; from an organizational standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Nonetheless, it is invariably the first few days of a convention, and not the climactic last few, that I tend to enjoy the most. During those hectic first hours, there are lots of things to do and yet no real pressure to actually get anything specific done. Thus, there is ample time to try new games, to renew old wargaming bonds, to play that neglected onetime favorite that has been gathering dust for years; and, at the end of each busy and (hopefully) enjoyable day, to celebrate one's wins and losses with a convivial drink or two in the hotel bar with both old and new wargaming friends. As one old wargaming friend (and a fellow Vietnam vet) once observed: "Wargame conventions are a lot like R&R trips, but without any of the latter's language issues or manic debauchery."

Vince Meconi and Andy Choptiany play War at Sea.
From mid-week on, things begin to pick up their pace. For old line tournament "sharks" like me, this is the period during which we tend to "pull out the stops" in an effort to gain a quarter-finals slot in one or more of our tournaments of choice. This is also usually the last chance for a player to change course and enter a new event if things haven't panned out in one or more of our various specialties. For my own part, I usually try to gain one of the play-off slots in WATERLOO and AFRIKA KORPS; however, if time permits, I also usually try to compete (at least for the first couple of rounds) in the WAR AT SEA tournament. And, of course, there are always those conventions in which things simply don't work out as planned. Speaking for myself, in more than a few instances, I can remember sitting down to games as diverse as ATTACK SUB, BREAKOUT: NORMANDY, CIRCUS MAXIMUS, and VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC after being knocked-out of my first-choice tournaments during the early qualifying rounds. I guess, when it comes to my own tournament gaming, I tend to do what the lyrics from the old Pop standard suggest: "If you can't be with the one you love; love the one you're with."

Don Greenwood, the
WBC Convention Organizer.
When the last day of a really enjoyable convention finally arrives, it is always (for me, at least) a real "downer". Some of this, I suspect, derives from the tedious necessity of packing up, checking out of one's hotel room, and of confirming final travel arrangements for the impending trip home. Part of the cause of this last-minute case of melancholy, however, comes from the realization that the convention's remaining life can now be counted in minutes and hours, and no longer in days. To return to my earlier "Christmas" analogy: The last few hours of a convention remind me of that time on Christmas Day, after all the presents have been exchanged and opened, when it is finally time to clear away the wrapping paper and other jumble from under the tree -- a task that inevitably reminds everyone present that another Christmas morning has come and then too speedily gone. On the bright side, for me at least, is the knowledge that this momentary bout of depression always passes quickly; and by the time I board the train for Philadelphia (many attendees, myself included, fly into Philadelphia and then take the train to Lancaster) I inevitably find my mood lifting as I begin to plan for my return the following year. And happily, for those gamers who were able to attend this year's convention, and even for those, like me, who were not, there's always the promise of next year.


  • I went to my first convention -- Consim World -- this summer. The thing I liked about it is that Competition may have been part of a game, but the games were not part of a competition. Less stressful that way. You win, you win, you lose, you lose. I mostly played Down in Flames, but I also played Kingmaker, some Napoleonic card game, War at Sea, Russian Campaign and some 50-year old nuclear war card game. (It was a blast! Pun intended.) Other than a really slow opponent in one game, it was all fun. Anyway, can WBC really sustain a non-tourney player through an entire week of open gaming?

  • Greetings Preston:

    I was -- as I already noted in an earlier post -- only able to drop by this year's Consimworld Expo briefly for a couple of different tours, but even my short visits left me with a very up-beat, positive vibe.

    In the case of the WBC Convention in Lancaster, it is, as you correctly observe, primarily a tournament convention; in fact, regular and demo tournaments are typically offered in over 120 different titles. However, the covention offers substantial opportunities for open gaming, as well as the opportunity to participate in both demo and "play-testing" games. There is even a game "lending library" (a very nice feature) which allows players to try out new games before actually buying them. All this being said, I would have to say that, while the WBC Convention is a competitive player's dream, it is also a great gathering for casual and non-tournament gamers!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Wow Joe - you transported me to the scene of the great Don-Cons of years past with that write up. I had never considered it, but it is so true - those opening minutes: walking into the hotel looking around for gamers; finding people you've never met but conversed with at a distance for a year or a decade or more; seeing who has something set up in open gaming that you want to try; checking the roster for the tournament to see who you might get to play; wandering through the set up of numerous games that might draw your interest. At avaloncon, I used to hang out to watch early turns of Russian Campaign just to see the openings, and perhaps learn a few new tricks. (Playing ASL by then curtailed my options with other tourneys, since it used to go for the length of the convention.)

    And yes, the sheer exhaustion of the last hours. What memories. Thanks again for the great write up!

  • Greetings Russ:

    There really is -- for me, at least -- no feeling like the one I get when I first arrive at the site of a favorite convention; it just never pales with repetition. And the end-of-day gatherings with friends in the hotel bar, I should add, besides being a great way to decompress after tournament competition also make for a convivial and enjoyable close to each convention day.

    Best Regards, Joe

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