BreakoutCon is in its third and biggest year (you can read about some of the history leading up to it in David’s piece) – it was great to see the con stretch its legs into the new venue, and it was also really interesting for me attending this year as a special guest! I had a fantastic time all around, so let me give you some highlights.
First up, the new venue I just mentioned – so much more accessible than the previous north venue was, and also gives folks more of a taste of Toronto if they want to venture out for food and entertainment. I also liked how much more of an open feel the Sheraton Centre had for its conference spaces – wider hallways and quite often windows in hallways and rooms for natural light was really nice and helped get through the day. The layout was terrific, and I don’t feel like there was a struggle for people to find places to play (either RPGs or tabletop games) well into and through the night. This year, vendors were placed along the main thoroughfares, which I loved – it made them way more visible than being tucked away in a room somewhere! It was great to see the boardgames vendors situated nicely outside the open gaming area, I saw a lot if interest in that setup.
As a special guest I got to take part in and run some events this year – it was a fun experience, but a slight double edged sword as I found myself running out of time to partake in all the things I wasn’t running. However, it all started off amazingly as my first event was running Word Slam! One of my favourite larger group games from last year, and in my opinion best when played at a convention. I had a great table full of folks playing for two hours on Friday night and it really kicked off the weekend in a great way for me. My other event, running Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama, was a little more troublesome as it was scheduled for the same time as announcements for the Play to Win contest – and who doesn’t want to win some games? I did get a couple of interested folks drop by after that, but I’ll keep this in mind next year. And honestly, the Play to Win competition was packed full of terrific games, so I’m really glad to see that was so popular – it’s a fabulous way to get people trying new games.
The Open Gaming area for board games was really hopping at all times – there were scheduled events and demos like the ones I just mentioned, but it was mostly people getting together for whatever they could – either that friends had brought with them, or from the con’s (fairly decently sized) library. Con volunteers were always around for help, and the “players/teachers wanted” signs were doing the trick all through the weekend – I’m glad to see this being used by more and more small conventions to get groups together. On the more unpublished side of things, I enjoyed how the ProtoTO section was integrated into this space – there was a table for designers to check in at, and they’d set you up with a spot and search out playtesters for you. There was quite a bit going on at that end of the ballroom all weekend, which was really inspiring to see – we’ve got a thriving designer community here in Toronto and Southern Ontario.
Speaking of, the very first panel I got to take part in – by moderating – was all about “how to playtest well” – I got to guide the discussion between Daryl Andrews, Erica Hayes-Bouyouris, Pam Walls and Jonathan Gilmour. There’s a huge wealth of playtesting experience in that group of people – from testing games with family and friends right up to mass testing games – we covered a lot of ground, and it was a fantastic panel. I then took part on a “Breaking into Board Game Design” panel from the perspective of someone very new to it all, having never published a game before – but having some experience with the industry. Daryl Andrews, who has quite some experience himself, moderated the panel and I was there with Rob Daviau, Sen-Foong Lim and Allysha Tulk. Again, there was some great perspective from different areas of the industry, and I hope we gave some interesting fodder to the eager audience there. And all the panels from the weekend were recorded, so keep an eye out for panel audio to be released on the RPG Design PanelCast. I know I want to hear some of the panels I missed out on.
While I did spend a lot of time running and attending events, and catching up with folks I don’t get to see too often, I had a little bit of time to play some games (yay!). I was super happy to have a chance to play Dinosaur Island again (as I’m gearing up to review it), thanks to Mike Primeau from Path of Play for lending me his copy! I even had my first experience teaching it, which didn’t go too badly. I am now hungering for a medium or long game of this – and being tempted by that current Dino Island etc Kickstarter! Mandi Hutchinson from To Die For Games & the Dice Tower showed me the quaint and wonderful little card game Songbirds late Saturday night to my absolute delight – I’m quite tempted by its Kickstarter, too. Thanks to Daniel Rocchi for bringing Circle the Wagons for me to finally try – I had a quiet moment on Sunday before Dinosaur Island, so decided to play this a couple of times with a friend, and was pleasantly surprised how fun and variable it is for a microgame. Might have to seek that one out.
The BreakoutCon organizers have really outdone themselves with their 2018 event. From a guest perspective, I always felt like I was up to date on info and the organizers were always willing to have a back and forth with me. I felt welcomed and supported, and I hope everyone else there did too; from the frequently sported pronoun stickers to the well-stocked water supplies and reminders of self-care, they definitely have gone a long way to make sure attendees are taken care of. I am looking forward to seeing how it sustains itself going forward, as a thriving event for RPG enthusiasts, board gamers, and game designers – because it’s found a good pace and a niche for itself that I think will keep on doing well.