Over the post-July 4 weekend I had the opportunity to join around 300 fellow board gaming geeks for the first annual Dice Tower Convention in Kissimmee, Florida. The Dice Tower is a popular website that tracks news and produces loads of podcasts and videos for board gaming fans. It has built a big following of readers, listeners, and viewers, all of whom are avid game fans. After providing a great online presence and resource for gamers for so long, it makes sense that The Dice Tower would expand into the offline world, and the Dice Tower Convention is the product of that expansion. Tom Vasel, one of the primary faces of the website, worked with organizer Patrick Havert and a team of volunteer staff to put together this full weekend of tabletop gaming goodness.
The Ramada Gateway hotel in Kissimmee, just west of Orlando and very near Disney World, was the host hotel for the event. The hotel wraps around a central courtyard, and a large conference room opening from the courtyard was converted into a gaming hall. The staff set up rows of tables throughout the room with plenty of space for gamers to settle in. A second, smaller room on the side of the main gaming room served during the daytime hours as a game room for kids, providing opportunities for youngsters to engage in appropriate board and card games while the grownups on the other side of the wall tossed dice for more complicated titles. At night, the kids’ gaming room became a party game room, which mostly meant it was the home base for all night sessions of Werewolf. In addition to the board gaming areas, the convention also boasted a roleplaying game room and a video game room that were separated from the other tabletop action by the hotel lobby.
Near the main gaming room, Cool Stuff Inc set up a temporary store in one of the hotel rooms. They offered bargains on many of the games being played at the convention, and they also offered next day delivery service for convention attendees. Since Cool Stuff is based in Orlando, shoppers could place a web order with them and then pick up their merchandise the following day at the convention. Savvy shoppers also could peruse a gaming flea market that set up in the party game room on Saturday night, when fellow attendees brought their old games out to pass them along to new homes. Also on Saturday night, the con hosted a charity auction to benefit the Jack Vasel Foundation, raising almost $2,600 in proceeds. Whether you were looking for new or old games, it was hard to beat the selection and value at this event, not to mention the opportunity to put your gaming money toward a worthy cause.
The main con hub of course was the central gaming room, and you could find loads of gamers locked in cardboard and plastic wars at all hours of the day and night. Attendees were able to bring their own games from home to play and share with others, but my preferred method of game sampling for the weekend was the extensive library of games available near the entrance to the convention room. The staff set up a wall of shelving to be the temporary home for countless board and card games, and staffers managed the library nonstop through all 80 hours of the convention. Attendees could check out a game, play it for a while, and return it for free. Even better, the convention provided signs you could carry to your table with your newly borrowed game to let people know whether you were looking for someone to teach you that game or whether you needed more players. The library and those “Players Wanted” signs really made getting people together for gaming a simple and fun feat.
I’ve been to many conventions of various sizes and focuses, and it’s safe to say that the volunteers and players at the Dice Tower Con were some of the nicest and most easily approachable con folks I’ve encountered. The whole event ran smoothly and kept on schedule, but nobody seemed stressed out or upset. The atmosphere was laid back and fun, and the whole weekend felt like a great opportunity to make new friends and share in a common hobby with them. The convention did bring featured guests like most cons do. Unlike other cons that sequester the guests behind autograph tables, the Dice Tower Convention had their guests mingling with the crowd and even playing games with them. I spotted Richard Borg (designer of Memoir 44 and BattleLore) and Richard Launius (Arkham Horror, one of my own all-time favorite board games) interacting with their fans, and I know at least a few other gaming professionals were making their way around the game tables throughout the event.
Everyone I met was welcoming and genuinely happy to be a part of this first year event, and I was able to get into a lot of great gaming sessions with folks I just met a few minutes before. Based on the post-convention activity on the con’s official Facebook and the surge in gaming events planned in local Orlando Meetup.com groups, it seems that the Dice Tower Con gave a kickstart to the tabletop gaming community in Central Florida by bringing together a bunch of games and introducing a lot of likeminded enthusiasts to each other. I got to know many kind folks, both in the staff and among the attendees, and I learned several new games that I was able to then teach to other newbies the following day. I’d especially like to thank Grace, a member of the staff who taught me how to play King of Tokyo and Kingdom Builder, two fantastic games that absolutely will be making their way into my own collection.
Spending July 5 through 8 with a big room full of my fellow gaming geeks was a great way to spend my post-holiday weekend, and I’m already looking forward to the inevitably bigger and even better followup next year. The convention completely sold out of all its passes prior to this inaugural event, and it seems like a safe bet that they’ll do the same with an even higher number of attendees next time. Great job, Dice Tower folks!