The Daily Worker Placement

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

FANEXPO 2019: OPPORTUNITIES MISSED

by | published Monday, August 26, 2019

The tribes have all streamed back to their separate homelands now: supes, schoolgirls, Whovians, browncoats, steampunks, Trekkers, zombies, overwatchers—and yes, tabletoppers. For four days they took over downtown Toronto in their colourful getups, signalling their fandom one to the other.

This was my second year covering FanExpo Toronto for the DWP. On a personal level, I still feel a rush in seeing the ongoing bloom of geek culture, and on the growing diversity of voices seen and heard. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say. And if things have become more corporate, more monetized, slightly predictable—well, to me that’s a sign of success and acceptance that’s pretty well inevitable. But ymmv, as they say.

However, on the subject of tabletop’s presence at FanExpo, I am less sanguine. Compared to last year, certainly, boardgame culture’s presence was significantly more muted. Why, I don’t know, since I am not privy to the planning and politics. But whereas last year there was a huge gaming hall and library right in the middle of the con, along with oversized games in the main hallways, this year everything was downsized and shunted off to the side—although admittedly conveniently located near the main entrance in North Hall. Apparently this was due to sponsorship falling through—but I don’t know of any communication that went out about it. 

I spent most of my time hanging out with the folks at proto.to (Pam Walls, Mandy Jelsma, and Stephanie Metcalfe, and friends) and it was a lot of fun trying out some of Pam’s designs; I expect both of them will reach fruition, since they were both so good. I’d forgotten how much I love debugging games and suggesting improvements; I really need to get more involved.

The games library was well-stocked, with several fresh titles including a whole range of Funkoverse sets. Dozens of publishers donated copies of their games for the “play-to-win” contest, which encouraged many people to try out fresh new games such as Point Salad, Word Jam, and Chocolatiers. Several sets of tables were set aside for a Catan tournament; there were also demo tables for Keyforge, Pandemic: Rapid Response, and Ticket to Ride: London, the latter as yet unavailable in Toronto or so I thought. Later in the day I espied a tiny sign on the table that said it was indeed for sale back in the Market Hall at, of all places, the Dueling Grounds booth, which I had completely missed in my first pass. I hop, skip, and jumped back to the South building and spent way too much time trying to find it and buy a copy. 

As it turns out Dueling Grounds was the only local FLGS of any note at FanExpo. 401’s absence was understandable at least because of their recent upscale move to Yonge & Bloor, but as I said last year I think there’s a real missed opportunity here. I mean, when Penguin Canada and Harper Collins, of all companies, decide to hire booths, and there are umpteen comic and Funko stalls, but hardly any tabletop presence, I can’t help feel a ball is being dropped somewhere.

The same goes for the tabletop panels. The call for panel ideas and attendees went out in early June–which seems really late in terms of getting things into the printed catalog, not to mention organizing the schedule, which never really happened. They were also under-publicized and under-prepped, with panelists confused and double-booked. I will say (#humblebrag alert) that my panel, on Using Games in Education, was very well-attended–due no doubt to people wanting to hear tips from my panelmates: moderator Sen-Foong Lim (Belfort), Jay Cormier (Junk Art), Erica Bouyouris (Bosk), Helaina Cappel (Haunt the House), Kathleen Mercury (Dragnarok), and certainly not least Shannon McDowell (the Red Bull Escape Room World Championship). The fact that FanExpo had been moved forward a week this year probably helped, in terms of encouraging attendance from teachers, who are often too stressed and busy prepping their classrooms and opening days on Labour Day weekend. We could easily have gone on for another hour taking questions on the whys and wherefores of gamification in the classroom. The panel was recorded for Sen & Erica’s Meeple Syrup podcast; they will be posting it shortly if you want to see it.

I’d really like to see tabletop culture get its share of attention at FanExpo. How do the video game and comic people manage it? Do we need stronger or louder voices involved with FanExpo? Better outreach and earlier organization? I think some of us (and I’m including myself here) will have to step up if we want to see a change. What do you think? Were you happy with tabletop culture’s presence at FanExpo 2019? Do you have any constructive suggestions? Leave your comments below.


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