Fan Expo is a large-scale event that’s been going for many years in Toronto. It’s our equivalent of, say, San Diego Comic Con but scaled pretty down. Although, in the last few years Fan Expo has grown to be a behemoth that takes up the entire Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and packs more fun into a 4 day weekend than ever. For all of the years I’ve been attending during the 2010s, I’ve seen a little gaming areas tucked away: some RPGs, a little CCG/LCG action and a volunteer-run board game library. These things have waxed and waned and moved around a bunch, but generally always been there. Last year there were a few tabletop gaming related panels, even. This year it seemed like there was much more on the tabletop slate!
The most noticeable was the listing of board gaming special guests/designers in the program book! The gaming section’s usually dominated by video games, so it’s nice to see that happen. Guests were primarily in attendance for panels, of which there were a good half-dozen over the 4 days of the convention, ranging from prototyping to playtesting, crowdfunding to pitching your game, and more. While I wasn’t able to make it to all of the panels, those I did attend were a really interesting look into the industry – publishers, designers and manufacturers all had spots on these panels (many of them local to Southern Ontario) so it was great to see Jonathan Gilmour, Fabio Del Rio, Jessey Wright, Sen-Foong Lim, Daryl Andrews, Tim Brown, Jean-François Gagné and more. During one panel moderated by Eric Lang (formerly a designer in Toronto, now living in Singapore), an audience member asked a question about the (lack of) diversity represented on the panel, which was great to hear – and one of the guys on the panel (Jonathan Lavallee) gave up his seat for local designer Erica Hayes-Bouyouris. There’s definitely room for improvement in getting some other voices up in these panels in the future, so I look forward to seeing the organizers draw from the local community more next year.
Aside from panels, there were some great chances for budding designers to engage with board game guests at this year’s Fan Expo. In the board gaming hall, there was an “Unpub” space set up and attended by Pam Walls who runs her own yearly board game design convention, ProtoTO. Designers had the chance to set their games up, have playtesters sit down to try them, and also chat with the designers who were around the space during the weekend. In addition to this laid back setup, there was also a publisher “speed dating” event that allowed designers to have some 1-to-1 time to really focus in on talking about their games and getting feedback. Not only that, Panda Game Manufacturers had their Montral rep Jean-François Gagné at a small booth with information and sample kits for designers who are looking to take their last step and publish – this was fantastic to include! Toronto’s got a great design community and it’s great to see it being fostered at a larger event like Fan Expo.
Around the Unpub area was the fairly usual setup for the tabletop gaming room – a number of tables for game tournaments – including the Canadian Catan finals! – and an area for play of the board game library. This year’s library was smaller than previous year’s, but still had a great range of games – party, Eurogames, gateway games like Splendor and Ticket to Ride and more. And thanks to sponsors, there was even a play to win section – visitors to the library could check out a game to play and be entered in a raffle to win that copy. I’ve seen this at a number of board-game specific conventions and it’s awesome to see it start up for the tabletop area at Fan Expo.
On top of all of this, there were also game demos set up – Canadian distributor ÎLO307 had games from Repos Productions, Blue Orange and Asmodee North America set up and ready to play. A good number of these were scaled up versions of games which had fantastic table presence and really drew people in. I enjoyed a large-sized game of Kingdomino, and it was so cool. Publisher IDW games had a demo crew on hand showing off recent and upcoming releases all weekend, so I was able to try out Seikatsu, Purrrlock Holmes – Furriarty’s Trail, Clone Club and more. CMON (formerly Cool Mini or Not) were also set up with a number of games for demo, and local designer Chris Chung was around to discuss the upcoming expansion to Bloodborne: the Card Game on which he was a co-designer.
I’m impressed with how tabletop has started to step up as part of Fan Expo. It’s a unique market, but one that has its own niche that stands alongside RPG really well. There were hints of it out in the main exhibition hall too, with a small Catan booth, Dude Games showing off recent hit Magic Maze, an indie publisher here and there in artist’s alley or sharing a booth, and Cards Against Humanity deciding to grab a little slice of the Canadian market by coming back for another appearance. I’d love to see board game retailers able to take some space and make it viable in years to come, whether it be in that larger hall or in a gaming-specific area – we’ve got a good number of friendly local game stores in Toronto that I think could be a good addition for the event. So after another ProtoTO in September, and our own tabletop gaming convention BreakoutCon in March, I guess we now have Fan Expo to look forward to as another board games positive event on the calendar – looking forward to it developing over the next years to make board games a more prominent part of the gaming schedule at this overall geek culture event.