TTN: 6-8 November 2022
BGG.CON: 9-13 November 2022
In early July, someone shared a link with me to apply for a scholarship to the Tabletop Network conference.
I had never heard of it, but that doesn’t mean much – there’s a whole world of games conferences and conventions out there, and living in New Zealand, the very idea of travelling to one was beyond unattainable, so I didn’t even consider it. Now that we live in Oregon, a lot more is possible.
So, what is Tabletop Network?
According to their site, “Tabletop Network is an annual gathering of board game designers, focused on professional development, networking, and collaboration. Over the course of two days, you will gain new insights and learn new strategies to help design tomorrow’s best games.
Attendees spend their days together in hands-on breakout groups, working to define best practices in their chosen topics. And each evening, networking and playtesting events give attendees the opportunity to test out their new ideas and collaborate with their peers.”
While I considered applying for TTN, I also began to look into attending BGG.CON. Of course I knew about BoardGameGeek (BGG), but I hadn’t realised there was an annual convention, or what to expect.
What is BGG.CON?
“Over five days and nights we’re going to venture in the unknown and explore the variety of flora and fauna of boardgames. As per usual, the joy of the journey is found in meeting new people through our “Open Gaming” format as we get together, and the treasure of the BGG Library has some unexplored interests that await you.“
This year, BGG.CON was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (downtown) in Dallas, Texas. The hotel is the same age as me, and it’s the biggest hotel I think I have ever seen – everything is, indeed, bigger in Texas!
George’s new job has offices in Dallas, Texas and Durant, Oklahoma; if we could find a way to combine attending the convention with the in-person work trip they were asking him to make, this could be very effective time management, so George pitched it to his boss, I applied for the scholarship, and we waited to hear back.
Reading my application now, I can almost hear the impostor syndrome echoing in my words, preventing me from really selling my eligibility as a new voice in design – and the people who won the scholarship ended up being a big part of what made my experience so amazing, so I am kind of glad I didn’t win, in the end.
By late August, I was getting pretty antsy about booking flights before they got even more expensive, so even though we hadn’t heard back yet, I booked them, and got my BGG.CON premium badge, to ensure that we locked in a hotel room, and started working hard to get as many prototypes as possible to a state where we could present them at the convention.
As the convention dates grew closer, more events appeared as options to add to our schedule. Because I didn’t really know what they were, or how things worked, I kept it simple, but here’s what I figured out along the way, in case anyone finds it useful for other events, or BGG.CON 2023!
BGG Game Library
The main thing that happens in the BGG forums is the discussion of published games, and the convention is no different – the main purpose is to bring lots of board gamers together, and give them access to a huge library of published games to play. I hadn’t quite understood the scale of the library, or of the convention itself, until I saw the Landmark Ballroom at the end of TTN, with all those tables set up, and started to compute. I didn’t actually visit the library myself until almost the end of the convention, when I took a turn returning a game, because there was already so much to play with other people’s prototypes and games they had already checked out that I didn’t have to.
On the BGG site, there’s a category called “the Hotness“, which refers to the top 50 games people are currently frothing about. At the convention, there is a “Hot Games room” where you can actually meet some of the games that are (probably) listed in the Hotness – and play them. Each table seemed to have volunteers ready to teach them, too, which was closer to the board game cafe experience than other conventions I have attended – they usually have the “teacher needed” signs, but not people actively assigned to teach specific games.
We booked into two UnPub sessions, planning to attend the rest as play-testers, and left the rest of our days pretty open. As with the convention itself, all I knew about UnPub was what I had gleaned through the game design groups on Facebook: that it was one of the ways that designers can get their prototypes tested. So I had no idea what to expect, except that it was probably going to be a lot, and so I only booked us into two sessions.
Another thing that appeared in the schedule was the ability to book in to play a game with a group – a user lists a game and time, whether they are willing to teach or not, what number of players it requires, and the genre of the game, and BGG assign them a reserved space. The people creating the events were anywhere from designers wanting to show their games in full to new people, all the way to people or groups who wanted a guaranteed player count for a specific game. There were also rooms set aside for people to play particular types of games: quiet games, 18XX train games, noisy party games, etc.
I hadn’t planned to reserve any spaces, but a fellow designer offered to show me his new game and encouraged me to book a slot, and I did – but unless you are very good at time-keeping, I wouldn’t recommend this approach. We got so caught up in the convention that we lost all sense of what day or time it was, and all we could do was try to remember to eat and sleep. I hadn’t even checked my schedule for two days when I realised at 2.50pm, while George and I were out of the hotel at lunch with friends, that we were meant to be playing that game from 1-3pm that day. I hate not showing up for things, so I won’t book slots like that again until I have more experience coping with the con craziness.
The BGG schedule is very hard to access on a phone and I ended up not using it at all, which is also how I missed some other fun events – panels, comedy shows, and Battle Tops, an ongoing tradition where teams of players face off over spinning tops. So in some ways, we missed a lot of the “BGG” parts of the con – we didn’t attend the events, we hardly played any new games… but we filled our days and most of our nights with amazing experiences, regardless!
Exhibitor Hall and games for sale
I completely misunderstood how the Board Game Bazaar worked – I didn’t realise it was a free-for-all mad dash to get the best games, and we didn’t really have the space or the budget to buy any – so when I saw the queue, I ended up skipping it in favour of visiting the Exhibitor Hall, which was also much bigger than I expected in some ways, and much smaller in others – I hadn’t expected there to be more open tables in there, for example, which I assume included people playing trials copies of the games for sale. I also had to go there three times before I found the BGG area and collected my free t-shirt, which came with the premium badge. We all got a free game with our badge, and I bought a copy of one of my new friends’ games, plus the Chocolatier version of AZUL, but I wasn’t allowing shopping mode to engage beyond that, so we didn’t end up using the extra suitcase space we allowed for – in future, I will use it for more changes of clothes, instead, or come with a wishlist and a budget.
What would I change?
Given what little I knew or could glean easily about either event beforehand, as a new attendee, the things I would change the most would be their websites – it was impossible, for example, to find out what time TTN started each day – it wasn’t on any platform (except possibly Discord, but as I couldn’t get access, that meant nothing) until the email we received on the Thursday beforehand. People also talked about a dinner on the Sunday night that wasn’t on the schedule email, so on the day, I felt like it probably wasn’t something I was really invited to attend. It turned out that I was invited, and it would have been fun to go – but as it wasn’t clear, I felt it best to play it safe and not push myself into something that might be designed for returning attendees only.
As for the BGG.CON site, it was really hard to navigate (it’s in line with their “90s online forum” format for their main site, but as that is also really unintuitive, the whole thing could really do with a shake-up). It feels like another of those gatekeeping moments that make people who are new to the community feel stupid and/or excluded, because everything is really hard to do on the site without prior knowledge of this kind of forum.
So, if I were wanting to make these kinds of events more accessible to new designers and players, I would focus on making the websites feel more inclusive and welcoming.
- get the website UX and UI modernised by an expert in the field
- include more photos that show people from diverse backgrounds
- make the schedules easy to access and add to our phone calendars, to avoid missing events
- not expect all attendees to be comfortable using Discord
That being said, once we were actually there and in the midst of it all, it was an amazing experience! For me, this was the biggest board game convention I have ever attended by far. For George, who has a lot more experience with conventions in general, it wasn’t as daunting or as exciting as it was for me, as you would expect – but if I hadn’t had his experience and support to guide me, I’m not sure I would have signed up at all, given the barriers I listed above. And that would have been tragic.
As I publish them, I will also link the posts below so that you can check them out:
You must be logged in to post a comment.