There’s a peculiar thing about this particular convention – every single one I’ve attended has been the best one yet. That’s not bad, by any means – in fact, it’s great! Turns out Total Confusion 31 continues this streak with some new faces, some new friends and a hell of a lot of gaming. For that reason, this is going to be a long post!
I’ll take a look at this convention day to day, but first let’s look at the basics. Total Confusion bills itself as “New England’s Largest Gaming Convention” and they’re not wrong. While other conventions may draw many more attendees, Total Con is the largest convention dedicated entirely to the art and science of playing games. When I first stepped into the new location on Wednesday afternoon, there were already 20-30 people scattered about gaming. Now the convention doesn’t officially start until Thursday morning but I know folks showed up on Tuesday evening with the intention of getting in a full day of gaming before getting in a 4 day weekend of gaming. That’s awesome.
What’s always awesome
Have you ever gone to Gen Con and off in the distance seen someone like Tim Kask or Mike Pondsmith – maybe attended a talk they’ve given or an event they’ve hosted? Here at Total Con, you’ll just bump into them in the hallway, or in the game room – or jump into one of the games that they are running! The guest list for this convention never ceases to amaze me. Some the highlights? John Wick, Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer, Mike Pondsmith, Cody Pondsmith and many, many more! Your chances of just bumping into someone amazing are great! This year we also had a few folks just drop in – like Stefan Pokorny of Dwarven Forge and author R.A. Salvatore. You really never know who you may be talking to – or better yet, gaming with! For a New England con, I think this alone makes Total Con a unique experience. And that’s not counting the huge number of gamers like you and me who are always willing and ready to have a great time.
What was new
This year, Total Con moved venues for the first time in well over a decade. The Best Western Royal Plaza Marlborough, MA. It’s not the first time Total Con was at this location but it’s been a while. The change in venue offered two very important differences over the last hotel. There was more than adequate parking and there was a more than adequate number of rooms. These two things made for a huge difference from the last few years where attendees who both wanted to stay on site or drop in for a day had the easy ability to do so.
The new venue also offered a much different layout, with board games, mini’s, the computer games room and the young player’s area being on one side of the hotel and RPGs being in another. This did result in a little bit less mingling, but also a lot less crowding. On the whole, I think it was a good thing. In fact, a day or so after the con wrapped up, even though official numbers aren’t out yet, the TC Facebook page posted:
TotalCon 31 is officially in the record books!!! With all the big changes going on, we expected a bit of a drop, instead the convention grew again!!! The convention surpassed every bench mark it set as a goal. That credit goes out to every volunteer, industry guest, game master, performer, vendor, exhibitor, and podcaster that was in attendance. The TotalCon team may provide the framework but the passion, creativity, and heart you bring to the table is what gets folks excited and what keeps bringing them back year after year. And now to see folks jazzed about creating new events for 2018 is AWESOME!!
Since my wife is on staff for the convention – and Total Con didn’t officially kick off until Thursday morning, Wednesday is always an interesting time. Generally my wife and I go into the airport a few times to pick up several industry guests being flown in from the mid-west or west coast. Generally for us this is a day of greetings, getting folks settled into the hotel and whatnot. We ended up in the hotel bar that evening, as we so often do. It’s our chance to see convention staff members we don’t get to see all that often, greet incoming guests and psyche ourselves up for a lot of uptime and not a lot of sleep.
My Thursday started with being interviewed for And Now A Word From a Gamer – a new documentary that was filmed almost entirely at Total Confusion. Hopefully we’ll all be able to see the final film at Total Con 32 (and also everywhere else!)
From there I went to the first game I was running all convention – Above and Below. I love Red Raven games and Above and Below may be my favorite (with Islebound a close second). It was fun to teach three other folks the joys of cave exploration.
After that I did what I’ve done every year for the past three years. Help set up, move crowds through and then take down Sal’s Traveling Flea Market! This is a pretty sweet event where over 800 games and game related products were brought in. A whole bunch of ’em sold too.
Finally, after the flea wrapped up around 11, I found myself with my wife and the head of con security in the board game room with a quick game of Splendor.
This was my big day. I was running games in all but 2 slots, which worked out to roughly 11 hours of planned gaming (and in reality about 15 hours of actual gaming).
The morning started off with an event I called Territorial Disputes. I brought a number of small, area control games and had fun playing them with three folks I’d never met before. I brought Age of War, Eight Minute Empire:Legends, Guilds of Cadwallon and Tiny Epic Galaxies. We ended up playing War several times and Guilds once but didn’t have time to make it to the other two games.
From there I got to introduce six folks to Cutthroat Caverns – my all time favorite take-that style game. While I had originally intended to play as well, I had a grand time running the game (as it was entirely full with no space for me)!
Then on to the first big event of the day for me. Scythe. Taking two slots from 3pm to 7pm, it had sold out in pre-reg. Strangely, only 2 of the pre-registered folks showed up to play. That was fine though as three more players materialized seemingly out of thin air. One had to leave mid-game, which gave me the opportunity to allow a 6th person to jump in whom I taught on the fly. I. Love. This. Game.
I had a 2 hour break for dinner, roughly 20 minutes of which I spent in my room relaxing with my wife. Then it was down to the bar/restaurant where I secured two tables for dinner and for my next event. Kids Games for Adults – 2 Drink Minimum. I’d call this game a stunning success. It helped greatly that a pub game event had just ended and we attracted a few of those folks to our table (along with their pub games). I have never, ever laughed so hard during a gaming event. We played a six player version of Loopin’ Chewie (that I modified with 3D printed parts), Villa Paletti, Pairs, Animal upon Animal, Skull, and finally several rounds of a terrible game (which I loved) called Midnight Party with Hugo the person eating ghost. We literally closed the bar down with this event – they turned out the lights on us. It was amazing.
I will certainly be running this event next year – in fact I’m hoping to team up with Mat who ran the pub games event so we can have one epic night in the bar gaming our little hearts out.
This was my lighter day. I’d purposely not scheduled any games as Luca was going to join us for the day. After touring the con a bit, we settled on a copy of Ice Cool from the Vendor’s room (the awesome folks at Crossroads Games). It’s a fairly simple, dexterity/flicking game where you attempt to get penguins through different doors to capture fish tokens while one player is trying to get your little penguin school ID card. Players switch off as the penguin attempting to capture the others. The physical (and graphical) design is amazing, and the physics of the game are a lot of fun too. I’d play this one just about any time. We played it at various times during the day with various people.
Then we bumped into our buddy David (who’d entertained us at the Granite Games Summit) and he introduced us to a bunch of cool, smaller games. We played Stack, Kingdomino (a surprisingly fun filler), and Mint Works – a tiny little worker placement game in a mint tin. Lots of fun!
From there we went to the all-con-long Paint and Take event. You paint a mini and then you take it. This has been a favorite of Luca’s in the past years and this time I joined her. Loved it!
Luca and I also got to demo her game Candy Crash and got some great feedback!
From there I got to relax a bit, grab dinner with my wife and some other convention staffers and then headed into the board game room to see what was what. I played a pick up game of Tiny Epic Galaxies, Played several rounds of Spyfall (finally!) I had a fun time also teaching Guilds of Cadwallon whilst playing Tiny Epic Galaxies. Something I’ve not done before. It must have been okay because I won TEG by a decent margin.
Later that evening I had the privilage (as I have for the past 6 cons) to attend an industry guest party. It was, as always, an amazing time filled with amazing people who I never would have met were it not for Total Confusion. I also found out that John Wick has a much, much better angry face than I.
Ah Sunday… a day of winding down and doing nothing. NOPE! Not at this con! Sunday morning I ran my Prototype Workshop. This Sunday we had five prototypes to go over and it was a lot of fun seeing a ton of creativity and good games before they make it to publication. I fully expect to see at least a few of them in game stores in a year or three!
From there I was going to run a Bohnanza game but didn’t have enough folks to do it. So I wandered back into the vendor hall, bought a few things, wandered back into the board game room and was almost immediately scooped up for a game of Vast: Crystal Caverns. This is a very cool, very asymmetric game in which players take on the rolls of the Knight, the Goblins, the Dragon, the Thief and the Cavern itself. I played the Cavern. Very interesting game! I was a bit burnt out at this point (it’s 2pm on Sunday after all) and didn’t play at my best but still very much enjoyed the experience.
Remember how folks were at the hotel a full day early to game? Well here’s the board game room at about 4:15pm on Sunday. Still stuff going on!
From that point on I was pretty much toast. I’m lucky not only to be invited as a guest but that my wife is on staff which means I get to see the after party (full of pizza) and hear how all of the staff experienced the convention. From there it was a quick ride home and a short dive back into reality.
I had a fine time. Total Confusion remains one of my favorite times of the entire year. As always, a huge thanks to the fine folks who make Total Confusion the best. The amazing staff and volunteers, the awesome guests and everyone who comes out to play! If you are anywhere near the area next February, I cannot encourage you enough to get out – even for a day – and play with us!
I played a bunch of fantastic games, ran some fun events, met a ton of great people and loved every minute of it! Special thanks to those who brought their prototypes to the workshop – some very interesting ideas! And to my friends at the con – those I met six years ago to those I met this weekend, you are the best part of this whole experience!
Here’s a semi-annotated gallery of most of the pictures I took at the convention – not all of which made it into the posts above. They may be a little out of order. Enjoy!