Saturday 17 March 2018

AireCon 2018 - Convention Diary

I can't believe it's already been a week since I made the epic drive north to AireCon, an 'analog gaming festival' held in the Harrogate Convention Centre on Friday 9 - Sunday 11 March 2018. Having taken an age to decide whether or not it would be worth braving the 500 mile round trip, I'm so pleased I decided to go. I spent an amazing weekend meeting up with tons of lovely people and playing loads of great games, and wanted to share some of it here in case you've been in a similar dilemma.

AireCon 2018 - Sign | Random Nerdery

Having left ridiculously early in the morning expecting a nightmare drive, I actually ended up arriving early enough that I was there and already checked in to my hotel when AireCon opened on Friday afternoon.

With friends Katie, Jeppers and Gemma not arriving until Saturday, I was a bit nervous about picking up my lanyard, guide booklet and (er...) flat pack mug before heading into the hall on my own. I'd bought the full three-day ticket (£25, pretty darn reasonable in my opinion) just in case, but hadn't really anticipated arriving before dinnertime and actually having to use it! Luckily everyone was super-friendly and I felt a lot more at ease.

Since I wasn't entirely sure what to do with myself at this point, I took a quick spin around the hall to see what was what. I say quick, but this hall was huge, with massive amounts of open gaming space that make up the core of this con. The biggest downside for me of the UK Games Expo (outside of the hotel prices... *waves an angry fist at the Hilton*) is the lack of space to actually sit and play games with people, but AireCon provided space in spades. As the weekend began my first instinct was to grab a table, stake a claim and guard it with my life, but as time went on I realised there was absolutely no need to panic. There was never a time when we wouldn't have been able to pack up our things, go for a wander and then come back to find another gaming space. Kudos on providing enough seats for the tickets sold, AireCon peeps - winning at maths!

AireCon 2018 - Space | Random Nerdery

Having converted my flat pack mug into a real mug (it was a token) and filled it with discounted tea (£1 per drink for mug owners), I felt a bit braver about checking out the open gaming area. AireCon provided a Gameseekers area with a table of balloons that people could take to float above their tables if they wanted extra players (black for a game that lasts less than two hours, white for over two hours). Brilliant idea, but all my games were still in the car and I didn't see any balloons about yet. This was secretly a bit of a relief as I'm still not sure I'd be brave enough to go up and ask if I could play. Perhaps for future cons I'll take my own balloon that says 'Ask me to play your game, please, because I'm too much of a wuss to ask you!'.

I was sort of joking there, but actually a third 'game wanted' balloon option might not be such a bad idea for shy people!

But anyway, if you want to be asked to play a game, playtesting areas are usually a safe bet and this is where I accidentally ended up next, mainly attracted by the initial construction of what was to become an epic wall of cat pictures over the course of the weekend. I had the great pleasure of meeting the amazing (and best-hug-giving) Bez, the genius behind the cat wall and games like Yogi, Wibbell++ and Kitty Cataclysm (currently on Kickstarter).

AireCon 2018 - Bez and Cats | Random Nerdery

Bez kindly sat me down for demos of some of these existing games, as well as a really fun prototype that I wish I could buy now but will have to wait until its Kickstarter. I left under strict instructions to return the next day to add a cat to the wall, which had been built up over a number of past conventions. One cat, per person, per day - those were the rules. You can see my little kitty contribution above!

I also got to try out another current Kickstarter: post-apocalyptic vehicle battling game Wreck and Ruin. Drawn to the table by the amazing miniatures, I stayed for the fun gameplay and I think I'm going to have to back it (despite supposedly cutting down on Kickstarters). You can check out Mark's campaign here.

AireCon 2018 - Wreck and Ruin | Random Nerdery

It seemed a waste to come all the way up north and not actually investigate Harrogate itself, so I took a bit of a break to look around the town. Other than visiting the legendary Betty's Tea Rooms, the only thing I managed to accomplish was finding a board game shop and accidentally buying Photosynthesis (thanks, Games Crusade!). Clearly my mind was too cardboard-focused to be too touristy!

AireCon 2018 - Betty's Tea Room | Random Nerdery

Saying that, the next photo I took was more food-based than cardboard-based, since I was hovering around waiting for dinner at the CGE demo booth where Paul Grogan was still hard at work. I did get to nose in on this board-game-celebrity game of Pictomania though (which looks very fun and silly):

AireCon 2018 - CGE Demo | Random Nerdery

After a speedy fish-and-chip dinner with Paul and friends, we headed back to the convention centre where we tried out a new prototype game from CGE that I really enjoyed, followed by a game of Raise Your Goblets which Ian had picked up from the AireCon bring and buy sale. Ian had bumped into the game's designer, Tim Page, when making his purchase and he'd promised to teach Ian how to play. He may have come to regret this when he was stolen from his T.I.M.E. Stories game to play with us. What a kind man!

AireCon 2018 - Raise Your Goblets | Random Nerdery

With not much time left before the hall closed at 11pm, we started a game of Mint Works. I was so pleased to finally play this, as it has been sat on my shelf of unplayed shame ever since the Kickstarter campaign delivered at the end of 2016. It's such a neat little worker placement game and I was still enjoying it when we had to pack it away early so they could lock up.

Some people went on to play games in the hotel after the hall closed, but having had a 4.30am start that morning I very much appreciated the excuse to go straight to sleep!

Day 2 of Airecon, and more lovely people arrive!

AireCon - Friends! | Random Nerdery

The first game of the day was a demo of Azul with Katie, guided by the lovely folks from Asmodee UK. I'm completely in love with this game but still can't find a copy anywhere to buy, so I'll just have to look sadly at these photos until a reprint arrives:

AireCon - Azul | Random Nerdery

Then we had a quick game of abstract puzzle game NMBR 9 to ease everyone gently into the day. This has become a firm favourite filler game for me, although sadly I missed the Mega-NMBR 9 event laid on later in the day.

AireCon - NMBR 9 | Random Nerdery

Next it was time for a quick look at the board game library available at AireCon. There was so much on offer that you could easily have turned up with none of your own games - something I probably should have thought about before filling the boot of my car!

AireCon - Board Game Library | Random Nerdery

Katie wanted to try out Nusfjord and I was more than happy to try out another Uwe Rosenberg game (although I've still never quite managed to try out A Feast for Odin - one day, one day!). With Jeppers and Gemma on board too, we were just starting to pile up the components and dig into the rules when a very kindly chap showed up offering to teach us how to play and be our fifth player.

AireCon - Nusfjord | Random Nerdery

This turned out to be Jon from Handycon, a bi-annual board game conference held in Maidenhead - a lot closer to home, yay - and he was very patient with us Nusfjord-newbies. I really enjoyed the game, which seemed to combine lots of fun parts from previous Uwe Rosenberg games without any of the family-feeding bits that stress me out in some of the others. Might be sneaking that one onto the wish list...

AireCon - Nusfjord | Random Nerdery

We opted for something lighter next, so I attempted to teach the others how to play dice-drafting window crafter Sagrada. This one is just so beautiful, but still has plenty of substance under the stained glass.

Off the Rails was next up, with minecart chaos ensuing as we hurtled around constantly changing tracks trying to pick up the shiniest gems before the mine started to cave in around us. We had to pause the action part way through, however, to make sure we got to the 'On the Couch with Polyhedron Collider' panel, handily located in a suite just off of the main hall.

AireCon 2018 - Off the Rails | Random Nerdery

The panel gave us a chance to hear from loads of board game media types like Efka and Elaine from No Pun Included, Matt from Creaking Shelves, Luke from The Broken Meeple or Kat from I Play Red and also introduced me to many more things I should be listening to, like The Game Pit or Unlucky Frog Gaming. And then of course there are the Polyhedron Collider folks themselves - if you don't listen to their podcast already, you really should. Awesome panel; far from ramshackle.

AireCon 2018 - Polyhedron Collider Panel | Random Nerdery

I did my best to embarrass myself in front of most of the people on the panels over the course of the weekend by awkwardly saying hello or talking complete nonsense, but everyone was super nice and it's much appreciated!

AireCon 2018 - Polyhedron Collider Panel | Random Nerdery

Day 3 brought a chance to finally try out the copy of Photosynthesis that had been burning a hole in my game bag since Friday. It is a beautiful, mean, mean game and I love it.

AireCon 2018 - Photosynthesis | Random Nerdery

It did also give me a chance to use the snazzy new AireCon dice tray that I'd bought, despite not having any dice:

AireCon 2018 - AireCon dice tray | Random Nerdery

Sadly I managed to completely botch some of the rules for our first game, which is ironic since we went straight into the 'Top 5 Tips for Teaching Games' panel after we'd played...

AireCon 2018 - Top 5 Tips for Teaching Games Panel | Random Nerdery

Another interesting panel with people well known for their rules explanation or overview videos: Toucan Play That Game, Gaming Rules!, Watch It Played and Skip the Rulebook. Brilliant tips were given, although I don't think I'll ever be a natural teacher, however good my intentions are. Fingers crossed that these guys keep putting out the helpful rules videos for a long time to come!

So that was my AireCon. I had to leave fairly early to make the epic trek home, but I'm so glad I went. I met so many brilliant people and caught up with lovely friends that I haven't seen for ages. Well worth the journey and I'd love to go back next year.

AireCon 2018 - Harrogate | Random Nerdery

And I'm finishing with a dessert picture from a Harrogate gelato shop, for no real reason other than it was beautiful and pretty much sums up my feelings on AireCon.

AireCon 2018 - Ridiculous Dessert | Random Nerdery

If you enjoyed this post perhaps you could take a look at my Facebook page and leave a like or come and say hello on my Twitter or Instagram feeds!