Monday, September 08, 2008

The Mecca of Competitive Boardgaming

While I wrote this for a different venue, I may as well put it here...

At the Mecca of Competitive BoardGaming
Lewis Pulsipher

Early August in Lancaster, PA is the time for the “World Boardgaming Championships” (WBC), the Mecca of competitive boardgaming. Unlike Essen, the Origins Game Fair, or GenCon, WBC concentrates on tournaments in about 150 board and non-collectible card games, ranging from:
• simple games like Liars Dice (as seen in the second “Pirates” movie)
• complex 8-hour games like Civilization (the boardgame that preceded the computer game)
• two-player wargames
• well known “Euro” games such as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, familiar to some video gamers through Xbox Live

There are relatively few exhibitors, who are there Friday through Sunday morning, though the convention begins Tuesday. There’s also the traditional game auction on Tuesday.

WBC was originally “AvalonCon”, in Camp Hill, PA and then Hunt Valley, MD (a suburb of Baltimore). It was started for Avalon Hill, the big board wargame company that was bought by Hasbro in the late 90s, and the convention is now run by the Boardgame Players Association and Don Greenwood, who was “Mr. Avalon Hill” to most of us even though he did not run the company. It is now at the Lancaster Host convention center that also hosts Historicon, the big miniatures wargaming convention, a week or two before.

Don told me that WBC emphasizes community rather than the commercial side of gaming, hence its concentration on organized tournaments that consistently attract reasonable numbers of players. This contrasts with conventions such as Origins, where an “event” can amount to a few people playing one session of a game. Further, you pay one fee (similar to the Origins or GenCon fee), then play in as many events as you can manage without further charge. In effect, WBC offers highly organized play, where other large conventions can be seen as “open gaming” cons with a few well-organized tournaments.

WBC has a core of 100 “Century” tournaments, modified each year by vote of the members of the BPA and a formula involving number of participants and hours played. A tournament such as Britannia, with more than 35 people playing in up to three 5-hour preliminary rounds, is solidly ensconced in the Century, though there are larger tournaments. There are also trial tournaments (again subject to vote), and tournaments organized by sponsor members or by game manufacturers, adding up to 150 to 160 tournaments each year.

To enhance the competition, not only are small prizes such as plaques and T-shirts awarded to winners, there is an overall winner for the entire convention, the “Centurion”, and a team competition. These awards depend on very successful participation in several tournaments.

Many of the players have been attending since the 90s, and are middle-aged, but there’s a strong proportion of younger players as well, and perhaps 20-25% of the attendees are female. There is much more a sense of community, of “coming home”, than at the much larger non-electronic game conventions, as many of the 1,300 or so competitors return year after year to play in their favorite tournaments.

This year’s convention was from August 5 to 10, next year will be August 4 to 9.

For information about the BPA and next year’s WBC, see PrezCon, at the end of February in Charlottesville, VA, is organized much like WBC, but smaller:

No comments: