The last time I went to FanExpo was, I think, 2011. The lineup to get in was ridonkulous, everything was hot and cramped, and boardgaming was relegated to a tiny curtained-in area. If I was going to spend my last summer weekend somewhere, I thought, I didn’t need to do it here. Every year I would see the posters on the TTC and opine that it would be great to meet Nathan Fillion or Matt Smith, but the idea of returning to the cauldron of the Metro Convention Centre just gave me the shivers.
Flash forward seven years. Through the heroic efforts of my dear colleague Nicole H., I had bestowed upon me, for the first time in my life, a Press Pass. I was a member of the Fourth Estate! Now all I had to do was wave it, submit my bags to a cursory inspection, and waltz right in.
I could get used to this.
Of course, once I was through the door the crowds pressed in, bigger than ever before–not that I was surprised. Geek culture has long since gone mainstream, and is no longer confined to the stereotypical misfits of yesteryear. It’s cooler than ever to let your geek flag fly.
Even with my press accreditation, I couldn’t help but experience FanExpo as a…well, a fan. Passing empty tables waiting for Westley, Vizzini, and Prince Humperdinck to come and sign autographs gave me goosebumps: so close and yet so far! The cosplayers were an endless source of wonder, entertainment, and amusement. My favorite, who went by too fast for me to snap a photo, was an Ice King from Adventure Time who passed me holding up a sign saying “Have You See my Gunter”.
While on the subject, I continually found myself bumping up against the conflicting norms of “polite society” versus “cosplay culture”. I doubt I was the only shy person there, and I love the idea of people normally all too willing to blend into the wallpaper having the guts to get all dressed up as their favorite superhero, avatar, or anime character. I knew intellectually that cosplayers don’t mind being looked at (in fact, they rejoice in it) and welcome being photographed. And yet I found myself both afraid to stare and too shy to ask if I could take photos. I was also mindful of a big standing banner by the main exhibit hall reminding us that “Cosplay is not consent”–something which I agree with wholeheartedly. So that’s the reason most of my photos look like crane shots, not close-ups.
The main exhibit hall is, for me, the siren’s call of any convention; the prospect of finding and buying a rare out-of-print game or brand-new release is my guilty pleasure. Sadly, boardgames were barely visible or available there. None of the GTA’s major brick-and-mortar stores were there, just a couple of tiny kiosks with very limited selection. Even the boardgame hall, which was HUGE, usually quite full, and well-stocked with a library, just had a couple of booths outside and tables inside for groups like proto.to and Panda games. It could have been a prime location for Meeplemart, 401 Games, Boardgame Bliss, or even Wood For Sheep games, and I don’t know whether FanExpo failed to reach out or the stores didn’t think it would be worth it, but it was a missed opportunity. Considering how many booths were selling comics or Funko Pops (including the Funko people themselves), the lack of boardgame merch was disappointing.
Only a few tabletop publishers were in attendance. Hasbro had a pretty big section of floorspace, but most of the stuff on display were toys (mainly guns, interestingly), and when I went by to talk to their reps the only people there were the Toys’R’US folks running cash.
One company I did talk with was Goliath Games, who was there showing off their latest games. The big push was for MacGyver: The Escape Room Game, which was another entry in the “escape room in a box” genre. Five rooms are included, and yes, a paper clips is included. Although you can play the missions separately, I recommend playing them in order. An internet connection is needed to play, because you’ll be entering answers in order to advance. You lose a minute for every wrong guess–not only in the current mission, but also for each one following (which it doesn’t say anywhere, I had to figure out for myself). It’s a linear sequence of puzzles, so everyone has to work on them together, which means the game is probably better solo or in small groups. I found the rooms pretty easy–but then I have a fair bit of puzzle experience–so this might be a good entry-level experience.
Other games Goliath had to show were:
I must say I was impressed with the number and variety of IP’s that Goliath had at its disposal. (Confession: they game me a bunch of freebies to review, and I didn’t say no.)
Also in the main hall were various video game booths and play areas. The longest line I saw was for Overwatch, so it’s clearly holding onto its fanbase despite the surge of interest in Fortnite.
Probably the most fun I had was getting two advance decks of Keyforge (thanks Sean, buddy!) and getting a chance to try them out a bit with Jonathan Gilmour, designer of Dinosaur Island and Dead of Winter. I also got to moderate a couple of panels, one on Designing Your First Board Game and one Speed Dating session where four designers pitched to a Dragon’s Den panel of publishers. They were the nicest Dragons I’d ever seen, asking constructive questions which in at least one case took a “bug” in one game’s design and turned it into a prominent (and eminently saleable) feature. What a great community!
All in all I came away from FanExpo revelling in my tabletop community and newly-energized to work on a game design of my own I started on years ago but left by the wayside. Watch out world!