It took the train just about five hours to trundle my way north to Harrogate from Bristol. With just one train change at Leeds, it was a very easy, but quite long journey. Airecon only occupies a small part of the Harrogate Convention Centre, but this does not mean it’s attendance is by any means small.
On entering you can certainly feel a wonderful buzz in the space, as hundreds of people take up space to play games with each other. Families, couples and maybe the odd loner like myself. I’ll be honest and say that I came here with no real expectations; I wanted to just to experience how the convention was being run and felt. I had one thing on my “todo” list which was to play at least one game with total strangers. I didn’t really care if it was one that I knew or something new to me.
Airecon is fairly well equipped to give you the opportunity to join a game. You can hang around in a designated area, or take one of the Airecon flags to a table that indicates a group are looking for more players. They also run a two different coloured balloon system filled with helium where a white balloon means that the game may take more than two hours and a black one means less than two hours. I actually think this would be better extended to a further balloon of up to or less than an hour and maybe something you can wear that announces that you are available to play a game (green, perhaps?)
The convention itself has all the regular things that you would expect from an analogue gaming con. Food, refreshments, some events, well-kept toilet facilities, a bring and buy and some traders selling their dice bags, trays, books, dice and all sorts. Along with this a few game developers were around using the crowd for playtesting. I saw Bez, looking as fabulous as ever, who you may remember from In A Bind and Wibbell++. Bez was asking people to draw cat pictures on cards in preparation for the next game in the works Kitty Cataclysm (currently being Kickstarted). But the focus is most certainly on play, on getting together with your friends or total strangers and either learning a new game or playing a game that you have not played yet because you’ve not found the time or players interested. It’s a very relaxed feeling convention, with a wonderfully accepting feel and embrace.
What did I play?
So what did I play? Well, it took me a while to find some players but two lovely people called Steve and Lynne wandered up to me and asked me if I was looking for players. “Yes, absolutely” I excitedly replied, putting on my best super enthusiastic smile. “What would you like to play? Something I bought with me or something you have?”. They seemed excited to see what I had so I gave them a quick overview of Harbour and Pocket Mars and eventually we decided to go with Harbour. I like to believe that I have an ability to explain games quite well and in a fashion that is easy to understand. Considering the few times that I have played Harbour with people who I know, but don’t know the game, they generally have picked it up really quickly and I have more often than not lost.
Steve and Lynne did really well in the game, picking up the basic principals really quickly and enjoying just how much tactical play there is as the game gets past its mid-point. I started out strong with picking up one of the higher scoring properties, but it was Lynne who was first to purchase her fourth property and begin the end game. At the final stages of the game, it actually went down to a tiebreaker between my two guests finally making Lynne the victor with but just a single resource. Close stuff…
I also played a game of Cash n’ Guns with four other strangers, it’s another game that I know and I really enjoy playing. Although, I seem to always die in this game, apart from the very first time that I played it. But still, I enjoy it. It might make me weird by saying that I think I have equal enjoyment in losing a game, as well as winning it. As long as the game in itself is fun. Being beaten in my own game is the sign of me being a fantastic teacher anyway (or that is how I like to think of it).
Yes, there is no doubt about it that Airecon takes a very different approach to conventions and it was a delightful experience. I’m going to address the elephant in the room where I’m going to say that it’s a very long way from Bristol just to play some games but I am really glad I went. If I had friends who lived in Yorkshire it would be a great excuse for all of us to get together and catch up. The organisers have put together a really nice feeling convention, I managed to catch up with one of them (Mark) in the noisy auditorium and ask him a few questions which we will put up very soon.
Do you think that this sort of thing should happen in more regions of the UK? Is this the sort of thing you would travel to regardless of how far away it is for you? Give us some feedback via our comments section or over on Facebook, Twitter and/or Reddit.