A word on the venue before we go any further…
I was actually really impressed with the place. It was easy to find (being well signposted off Junction 4 of the M54) and has lots of parking.
There are a combination of large halls and smaller side rooms that make it ideal for an event of the type that was being organised.
I must admit, alarm bells started to ring when I found out that the Saga tournaments had been cancelled (I was hoping to enter the Saga Iron Man tournament of the Saturday) – subsequent investigation showed that ALL of the miniature events (Saga, Bolt Action, Flames of War, X-Wing…you name it) had been cancelled. As it turned out, I discovered that Battlefield Hobbies had pulled out of the Con at the last minute, so all the events that they were helping with had been lost from the program.
The event also suddenly shrunk from 4 days to 3 – it was meant to start on the 25th August and run until the 28th. Then it all changed to start on the Friday instead. It didn’t bode well.
However, Saturday was a Vanguard UK Nationals event. I have absolutely no interest in this, but it’s currently one of Josh’s favourite games, so the fact that he wanted to enter this tournament was pretty much the only reason why I ended up going.
1 hour 15 minutes, 69 miles and £4 parking later, we arrived and joined a sizeable queue, which was growing rapidly. After a couple of minutes, an organiser walked down the line, checking that “everyone had their decks with them”. Turns out this we were in the queue which was only for the Vanguard tournament.
So, I bid Josh farewell and good luck, and wandered around the other side of the building. I walked in, strolled up to the reception desk (noting the lack of any sort of queue with a raised eyebrow) and, (somewhat begrudgingly at this point) handed over my £10 convention entrance fee.
I gazed along the concourse, at the tables obviously laid out for gaming (all empty) and asked the gentlemen who took my entrance fee what events were going on. “Oh Plenty” he replied. However, there was no event program, no venue map, nothing. Not even a bag full of advertising flyers. All I got for my £10 was a stamp on the hand (which, by the way, came off the first time I washed my hands after a visit to the toilet – do they expect gamers not to wash their hands?) He rolled his eyes when I asked about miniature gaming, but pointed vaguely towards the Costa Coffee stand on the concourse and mumbled something about the Dealer hall “being up there on the right”.
Walked past more empty tables, and arrived at the Dealer Hall.
It was a lovely big hall. High ceilings, well lit, loads of space…
…and almost completely empty (If you ignore the 15 foot tall inflatable Minion)
“Oh well” I thought “It’s early (It was only 9.15) – maybe it will get busier later in the day”…
…these were taken just after lunchtime…
There was almost no-one there who wasn’t a trader. I think, by the end of the day, I might have seen three or maybe four dozen people wander in and out of the hall all day.
As for traders and stands?
There were a two or three boardgame sellers (the main one being Magic Madhouse, who had one small side of their stand full of boardgames, and two sides full of CCGs and accessories for them). Four retailers were selling various accessories (from wooden coasters and dice towers, game themed jewellery, T-Shirts and custom card boxes) and three demo areas: One for Yu-Gi-Oh!, one for various mini games (X-Wing, Tanks, Dust Tactics, FoW Team Yankee) – run by Questing Knight Games, and the last run by the Esdevium demonstration team.
There was a trade stand in the Vanguard Tournament area catering for the players there, and another in a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament area, catering for their players.
Oh, and there were three food vendors.
But that was it. Nothing else.
I understand that there were some RPG sessions going on somewhere, and I think some computer gaming, but without a program of events or a map, it was difficult to say where or when these were happening (or if you could just turn up – I believe most were extra cost anyway). There was plenty of space and tables for open gaming, and indeed later in the day several tables were occupied by gamers – though probably no more than 40 or 50 people.
In the end I spent most of the day talking with the Esdevium demo team, and playing a few boardgames, whilst waiting for Josh to finish his tournament. Esdevium had a team of 7 or 8 demonstrators for the show – if they demonstrated games to more than a dozen people during the day, I would be surprised.
Yes, I played a few games I hadn’t played before, including the excellent Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, but otherwise we sat around and talked, especially about what we thought had gone wrong for the con.
Whilst it’s a great venue, the organisers had failed to attract many traders to the show – and yes, Battlefield Hobbies pulling out would not have helped – although I think they made the correct decision as I cannot imagine anyone has even broken even as far as costs are concerned.
Was it the wrong time? August Bank Holiday weekend is always tricky, are people still on holiday?
We think the bottom line was a simple one – the organisers had got their publicity massively wrong and subsequently hardly anyone knew about the event, or at least, not the people they really wanted to attract. Obviously word of the Vanguard tournament had spread, but apparently they had been forced to cancel the MTG tournament on the previous day due to lack of numbers (for a Magic tournament, on a Friday – almost unheard of!)
It’s a great shame. I think that there is room for more of these type of all-encompassing table top gaming conventions, and yes, everyone has to start somewhere – but I can honestly say that I have NEVER EVER been to a game show that was this poorly attended, or had this little on offer. (Neither, for that matter, had any of the Exhibitors that I spoke to).
As I said, it’s a great shame to see such an event as this fall flat. However, I would be very surprised if we saw Strategy Game Con on the events calendar for 2017.