I’ve realized at least one of the problems with these con reviews, (other than their non-extance): is that I’m reviewing my experience demoing rather than the con experience. I’m told that’s a perspective people are interested in, but demoing is by its nature pretty repetitive. I don’t want to flog a dead horse. At the least, I should try to parse what I’m talking about more clearly. They are clearly both aspects of an experience I’m trying to relate, but I haven’t really parsed them out, and there’s been a balance issue.
Demoing is fun. Seeing other people happy because of my labor is still makes me happy. The casual social feedback, teaching, awkward laughter at my shitty jokes. The positive is the people, both the people I demo to and the crew I’ve gotten to know through demoing. The con was great for demoing. The hall was open to the con and the vast tent of a ceiling. The casual gamers were much mellower than at big cons, and there was more of an in-crowd feel, as when I was demoing Sanctum before its release when the crowd seeking it out was more industry than for a published game. It was nice that the hall is only open for eight hours, but it was hard to do much out of that prime time.
Less fun was the twenty minute walk to my barley furnished Airb&b. It had all the standard features: futon instead of a second bed, hall instead of a second room, no tv, the most basic utensils possible, everything down to the single hung picture from Ikea. I had to stay there because a hotel strike was on and I’m no scab. And because Adam and Sasha emailed our boss to say they weren’t comfortable at the hotel and I could just hop on that train. There were advantages; I got to see the city just from the walk, I ate way further out from the con than I would normally, had access to a microwave and coffeemaker, (although I only ever used Adam’s fancy hand-burr-grinder pour-over rig). Staying with Sasha and Adam was what made being there better than the hotel, more than worth it. Although I do fear I alienated them by trying to be funny about being “sad about being alone” without making sure they saw the quotation marks. Having two such kind, intelligent and kind people for company at the end of the day gave every morning optimism.
No one else cared about the strike. It made me wonder what percentage of the friendships I make in the hobby are transient and shallow and based in tacitly agreeing to disagree about everything we truly value, and never talk about it. That those relationships hold no value for me because I’m such a terrible schmoozer and that’s all that matters to these people. That whatever joy I eke out of cons is incommensurate with their cost. So it’s always nice to room with comrades.
BC kind was no lie. This was especially important because even I will not carry cannabis over an international border. The dispensary was a small store with a counter, a chalked slate menu, and big windows open to the street. Frosted buds reeked of terpenes and flavonoids in new and reliable strains, (I got sour diesel and a jack, and they generally had something “purple”). Scooped out of big glass jars, weighed out by the gram in front of you by cheerful staff. There was a legally separate smoking lounge next door with sanitized bongs free to use if you’d just bought next door. One security by the door, leaning, ids checked at the counter.
Our waitress at dinner cheerfully waved down a co-worker to check that it was still open that late the night I came in. It was, and I ended up passing within half a block of it every day. I generally stopped in for a gram on the way home and pounded it out of a two-footer in the smoking lounge. The first night I copped three grams and papers. I dropped the papers on the way home and rolled all three grams into joints using tp. The first was a failure, largely; the tp collapsed at the first touch of moisture from my lips and made it impossible to draw. I rolled a crutch into the second and presto! Functional! The fact of my having done this after they went to bed made my roommates howl, as did the fact that I stored my bud and accoutrements in one of the many empty shelves in the kitchen, one sized for a bottle of wine.
“It’s just funny that you put it all together neatly into this little cubby,” Sasha chuckled.
“It’s not funny,” I replied, exasperated by the rust belt. “How am I supposed to keep it? It’s not illegal. I’m not going to scatter it around. Or like keep it in your way on the coffee table.”
“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. It’s just funny to see it there.”
“It’s the same as having the vacuum bags of coffee and the grinder and the kettle on the shelf. This is a civilized country, you warped standards. It’s a drug I take regularly, I’m going to have it organized.”
I got to see more of Vancouver than any of the cities other major cons are in. It’s weirdly like someone from the usa might think it, but still a little shocking. For example, there is graffiti, but only on temporary plywood or paper over permanent walls or fixtures. Being used in construction or whatever. The buildings, streets signs, even the metal boxes on the street are untouched. But construction plywood is bombed out. There are patches of those glass squares on the street that used to illuminate basements, as in all old American cities, and one of them sparkles with christmas lights. There is an actual tank cemented to the sidewalk in some tribute. The portions are small but delicious, reasonable for a city counting the currency conversion. Ramen, bratwurst, a burger, (vegan), all excellent. Even the fast food is good and an exception to the usual rules about portions. Get a croissant at the convention center and you will regret wherever you choose to live. The platonic ideal of a croissant exists at a convention coffee kiosk.
People knew how to walk politely when the delightfully cobbled streets were crowded. They jaywalked, but I only ever saw them do it in one place: an intersection in which the street headed underground and the intersection itself was plastered in signs warning against jaywalking. This was the only place I saw those signs. The convention center was beautiful and the roof of the open gaming area a tent sail that lets in natural light. Located on a pier, it was surrounded by the bay, dotted with cruise ships and tankers and tugs and seaplanes and a chevron to fuel them.
The convention seemed fun, but they’re working out the kinks. It was obviously a passion project from the volunteers on up, but systems that run more or less in the background at older cons still felt wonky. It felt like a poorly integrated smash up of a local convention, an open play convention and a destination trip. I can’t see where they’re trying to go with this, that would work, except much bigger. There were more board game YouTube celebrities than I expected, but it is run by YouTube celebrities, so. The hall is quite small, and underused- so it was easy for people to see, buy and demo what they wanted, when they wanted. Most of the vendors were the same from the major cons, which could be a huge advantage if you don’t want to go to any of the big cons, because a lot of the bigger companies that skip local cons seem to be investing in SHUX.
The library was impressive. Not the number of titles but the nearly total lack of dreck. Which could again be seen as an advantage; you can tour the whole thing in a few minutes, and you’ll find something you want to play with less analysis paralysis. The open gaming area felt lonely; there were just the wrong number of people to be able to find an open game wandering around by your lonesome. There was a RPG corner where you could actually sign up for a session run by another attendee. Otherwise it’s all open gaming that’s only open 8 till midnight. Reading that ‘only’ makes me wonder if I’ve gone further off the deep end, but I think restricting open play hours was a bad idea. Just the fact that the whole thing shut down and you had to go back to your hotel was jarring.
The talk I saw Quins give on the history of boardgames was interesting and very funny, although I couldn’t really hear him from the middle of the lecture area. Apparently they’ve been moving it around and haven’t found a good place. The lectures and panels were well attended, with visible waves of people dispersing into the con whenever one ended. An entire section was dedicated to leaving dexterity games set up for whoever wandered by, which was less lonesome. Still haven’t gotten to play crokinole, but klask is as good as their review. There were a fair number of easter eggs like that for SUSD fans, most notably the multiple games of Blood on the Clocktower running concurrently the entire time the con was open. There was also a mega game room just past the lecture area. You had to pay, and they still seemed overwhelmed; I found the sign up sheets sold out Friday afternoon.
There was a lot going on, and they’ve got good people committed to growing it and raising the bar working with them. So if you like open gaming conventions, SUSD, or Vancouver, two thumbs up. But I’d go to my local con first. This was the youngest con I’d ever been to, and it showed, but I hope I get to demo next year.