The very first year we opened the doors at TsunamiCon, we were startled to realize that the event we envisioned wasn’t quite what we saw developing around us. My friends and I were roleplayers; I’ve been a hard-core D&D nerd since the early ’80s, and naturally I attracted a group of similarly-minded gamers who got together every week for an ongoing adventure or two. We had been branching out at our FLGS and connected with other roleplayers, and TsunamiCon was soon to follow. What we didn’t realize at the time was just how the local tabletop gaming demographic – and by extension, the global demographic – had developed in recent years. We were virtually awash in board gamers.
Now, it would be inaccurate to say that we didn’t play board games. In fact, several of my friends have extensive board game collections, and they were common fare for nights when our regular gaming plans fell through. And honestly, that has been a pattern since I was very young. “Oh, Rick can’t make it for D&D… let’s play Axis and Allies.” Years later, it was Betrayal at House of the Hill. Then Lords of Waterdeep. And to be fair, I had never shied away from organizing board game nights for family or friends. But RPGs consumed a more than casual amount of my time and energy – a common trait amongst lifelong roleplayers.
So we expecting that most of our event would be in kind. RPGs with a bit of board gaming going on around it. I had an inkling it might be more; one of our local community friends offered to bring out a small library of games to share, and I even contacted some publishers and set up tournaments for Ticket to Ride and Zombie Dice. But we also set up a Star Wars Miniatures tourney, and Magic: The Gathering events. I figured it’s a gaming con… we should embrace all of it.
Still… I was not prepared for the reality that fully HALF of our gaming tables were board gamers.
Was I disappointed? Hells to the NO. It was so exciting to realize that there was this growing community of tabletop gamers who had a completely different hobby than I did. That they were every bit as dedicated, as excited to try something new, and loved to share their passion with fellow gamers! Since that time, TsunamiCon has always had about as many tables devoted to board games and card games as to RPGs. Without the board game community showing up, in fact, our convention would have long since diminished.
Recently a friend of ours who is a local leader in the board game community opined on social media that TsunamiCon is “very good for RPG and so so for Board Games.” (He went on to say that it’s a great time.) Despite the prevalence of board games at our event – the company now maintains a growing library of games that we bring to the con for attendees to freely enjoy – I discovered that I couldn’t disagree. I think I know why… I think I’ve always known why; it’s just a little hard to articulate to anyone who isn’t primarily a roleplayer, and a bitter pill to swallow at some level because we really do try to celebrate it all.
RPGs aren’t typically casual games. That isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions to the rule, nor is it a suggestion that board games can’t be very serious endeavors. But what is true is that most successful RPG experiences require planning, preparation, organization, and engagement by all parties. It’s far easier to take out a board game on a moment’s notice and dive in than it usually is for roleplaying games. Even if you are dealing with published adventure content and pre-made characters, your game master typically has to spend hours familiarizing him/herself with the material and determining how to approach it. It’s a style of gaming that requires a great deal of mental focus, mastery of game system and material, and improvisation.
So naturally, any event that provides roleplayers a chance to list gaming scenarios (that they then spend hours preparing for the event) and sign up for games (that they can then bone up on in their spare time, perhaps write up characters, etc.) is a huge draw for the community. It’s harder to find a good opportunity to throw down on some RPG action. Consequentially, one of the highlights of an organized tabletop gaming event that supports RPGs is the online schedule. It quickly becomes a central component of the entire con, which definitely focuses the attention on the games that show up on the schedule.
And this has been the case since Day One.
I earmark a substantial segment of our resources to board games every year. We don’t hold “play to win” events for RPGs. I don’t have a library of RPG books available. Roleplayers are on top of that for their own tables. Just as board gamers can bring games out to share and/or demo, and – to the point of my post, if I have one – also schedule them in advance. A handful of people do, and I’m excited to see it. But while we currently have maybe eight or ten board games on the schedule for the whole weekend, we have dozens of RPGs.
I want to show the board gaming community the love it deserves. We have 35 Play-To-Win games on the shelf this year, and we have a staff of knowledgeable volunteers managing our library. We’ll have some demos listed for Play-To-Win titles in the next few days. We have tables available for scheduled games and for open gaming. What we’d love to see is more board games and cards games on the schedule.
If you want to bring out a game and share it with your fellow attendees, feel free to list it in advance! Maybe you have a closet full of games and there’s some you never get to play; the convention is a fantastic place to do it. And letting your fellow gamers know about it ahead of time helps you find people who are excited to check it out. Maybe it’s a favorite of theirs, too! Maybe you picked up something new and want to play it more. Maybe you just don’t have the time in life to play your games, but you still have something to share. Bring it to the con!
I know that we’ll see plenty of cardboard hit the table. Being “very good for RPG and so so for Board Games” is all about context. When people check out the con in the weeks leading up to the event, the RPG crowd just takes up a lot of the space… Letting attendees know that board gamers are ready to rock and roll is a perfect step toward a level of equity.
~ E. “Captain” Carl