Another year of Canada’s biggest pop culture convention is in the can. Throngs of people in cosplay, or their civilian clothing (usually with pop culture references) swarmed about the Toronto Convention Centre partaking in the celebration of their interests and hobbies. It really is a pleasure to see the enthusiasm and creativity of the event’s attendees. This year, I was there with my enthusiasm for board games, as always! As the years go on I find myself gravitating far more to the board gaming space and events – once I’ve had my fill of artist’s alley, of course!
While much of my interest in TV, movies and comics has not really waned, I do feel like board gaming consumes my hobby time far more than any other interest nowadays. And so, my attendance at Fan Expo reflects that. I’ve shifted away from caring about sitting in on celebrity panels to caring about the tabletop community. That stands, no matter how small the presence is in this space.
Unfortunately, the fantastic room that the board gaming is normally held in was taken by another event this year. This meant that the board gaming library (with their excellent selection of play to win games), the playtesting ProtoTO space and the space used for Catan and Pandemic tournament events were shifted to space about 1/3 the size of the normal area where they’re all held. And in the north building to boot, nowhere near any of the rooms in which panels for the tabletop gaming track were held, and certainly a hike to get to the exhibition hall if you wanted to visit a publisher or vendor.
Perhaps I’m a little spoiled by the tabletop-specific conventions I’ve attended elsewhere, but it is really frustrating seeing the various aspects of the analog gaming arena scattered about the convention space. Given how strong the tabletop scene is here in Toronto, it’s strange to not see that reflected here (and honestly, it took too long for even a gaming-specific convention like BreakoutCon to appear!). Video games have large swathes of space dedicated to them specifically; comic vendors tend to be clumped together; even the somewhat smaller horror fandom has a specific little spot in the north hall! Yet this year I saw just three specifically game publishing companies in the vendor hall – and indie, too – Deepwater Games, Jason Anarchy Games and Vesuvius Media. There were also a few stalls with some crossover like Tee Turtle & Rock Paper Cynic. In addition, only a couple of tabletop-specific retailers had space this year – I didn’t see any tabletop stuff in Hasbro’s presence and companies I’d seen in the past couple of years hadn’t bothered coming back.
I don’t want this to be all sour grapes, however. I appreciate that there’s even a space for gaming and that panels on design and game art and the like are given time on the schedule (no matter how conflicting that schedule ends up being..). I just want to see the hobby that I love to be given a coherent space where it can thrive and attract more folks in from the general admissions to Fan Expo – there’s so much cross over potential there with IP games, and the rise of mass-market/hobby game crossovers. But heck, we persevered!
Not only were there organized tournaments for Catan and Pandemic, but there were demos running for Days of Wonder games, as well as CMON and Pandasaurus Games. (That giant Mental Blocks was SO EPIC.) In the heart of it all was the ProtoTO playtesting and game jam area. I saw a good amount of local designers with their prototypes on tables getting valuable playtime and feedback. I even got to try a game that will be heading to Kickstarter in October – Fossilis from Kids Table Games. I’m pretty much guaranteed to try any game once that’s about dinosaurs, but I’m really still thinking about Fossilis and can’t wait to try it again. Action point and resource management drive this game about getting through surface layers of sand, clay and dirt to the good stuff – fossils!! Find various parts of dinosaurs and collect sets for game-end points. Revel in the fun of delicately tweezing miniature bones out of the dig site. Gosh, what a great title. This one’s going to be a hit!
Guests this year were really strong! We had out of town designers and artists (Jay Cormier, Jon Gilmour, Kwanchai Moriya, Nolan Nasser) but damn if our local talent didn’t kill it. Ontario has something going on! Due to some cancellations, we didn’t go ahead with our tabletop media panel this year, but I did moderate the “shelf appeal” discussion about what makes a game stand out not only on the shelf but also on the table. The three-pronged approach of publishing (Morgan Dontanville of Catan), graphic design (Matt Paquette) and game design (Erica Hayes-Bouyouris) made for an interesting, multi-faceted discussion. In addition, I attended a panel full of powerhouse women in the industry – a live-recorded discussion of the “Do’s and Don’ts of Tabletop” for the Board Game Broadscast.
Honestly, I was just really proud at that moment, seeing a group of women like that representing for the hobby! Helaina Cappel (designer and publisher), Shannon McDowell (escape room researcher, game designer and puzzle aficionado), Erica Hayes-Bouyouris (designer and educator), Kathleen Mercury (educator, designer, podcaster) and Pam Walls (designer, podcaster and creator of ProtoTO) had valuable advice and knowledge for the attendees. Design, co-design, working with ideas and creativity, prototyping and how best to approach publishers and network within the industry all came up – but it was the panel’s closing statements that really struck me. Every single person’s statement of advice in some way or another was about how to treat others well and respect those who support you. Now that’s what I have come to love about board gaming. You don’t have to take my word for it – the panel will be up at the Broadscast YouTube channel before long.
I’m sure curious to see what becomes of the Fan Expo board gaming spaces and events next year – hopefully, we can grow it and have it in a space that it can flourish in! Let me know what you thought of the showing there this year if you were in attendance.