Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SoCal Smackdown - Pictures & Report

This last Labor Day weekend was the first annual SoCal Smackdown game convention. The organizer of this con, a friendly guy named Adam with whom I chatted a bit, is making an admirable attempt to get a regular gaming convention up and going here in Orange County again.

SoCal Smackdown was held at the Anaheim Hilton, a nice hotel a few blocks from Disneyland. Parking was $12/day. Con registration was $30 for the weekend, with a discount for early registrants. Pretty much the entire con was held in a single gigantic ballroom, except for the RPGs which were in an adjacent hall(way). Almost all of the action at SoCal Smackdown was focused on miniatures and CCGs. Most miniature gaming appeared to be tournament-related Warhammer, Flames of War, Warmachine, Malifaux, and Monsterpocalypse. There were also various Magic: The Gathering tournaments going on. If you are into any of these games, you'd probably love this con!

Flames of War

Unfortunately, RPGs and boardgames were a pretty minor aspect of Smackdown this year. Yes, there were some RPGs and boardgames listed in the event guide, but it seemed that there weren't enough players to support all of the scheduled games. At any given time on the Saturday afternoon I attended it looked like there were only 2 or 3 boardgames or RPGs going on. RPG activity was primarily D&D 4e. I saw one guy set up a Pathfinder game, but only one or two players showed up so he canceled. Notably, though, there were several awesome old school D&D sessions, which were frankly what attracted me to the con in the first place.

Hall(way) of RPGs
When I chatted with Adam the organizer he said the overall turnout was about 250. Unfortunately, this made the enormous ballroom feel rather empty (or "uncrowded" if you want to be optimistic). For some incomprehensible reason the Smackdown folks decided to schedule their con on Labor Day weekend so that it directly conflicts with the large and well-established Gateway con in L.A. (about 40 minutes away). Because of this, I think the size of the Smackdown may always be limited, and I'm guessing it will evolve into a niche event for miniatures and CCG gaming. I know Adam and the organizers have received a lot of complaints about this scheduling conflict (including from me), but apparently they are not changing the date for next year. I'd like to be able to go to both Gateway and Smackdown, and it sucks to be forced to make a choice between the two.

I'm not ranting here to be mean-spirited. I honestly think it would be a better business decision to not have Smackdown conflict with Gateway. I desperately want to see an RPG-rich con put down roots and grow here in O.C. and I will try to support Smackdown. I was worried, however, that almost no one from any of the (gigantic) O.C. RPG and boardgame meetups showed up for Smackdown - this is could be a bad sign that the Smackdown organizers aren't communicating very well with the local gaming community.

Where is everyone? Oh yeah... Gateway.
(Sorry about this joke, but it's kind of true. I join the chorus urging Smackdown to switch weekends!)
Anyway, I don't want to end on a negative note. I had a lot of fun during my Saturday afternoon at SoCal Smackdown. Because it's hard for me to get away from home for very long right now (new baby) I only got to play in one game - Brunomac's whitebox OD&D dungeon stomp, which was a blast (I'll post pictures tomorrow).

In sum, I would say if you like competitive miniature gaming and/or CCGs you should surely check out Smackdown next year. If you desire a broad selection of RPGs and/or boardgames you'd probably be better off at Gateway. I am interested to see what kind of offerings Smackdown will have next year - I'd love to see it grow and hopefully diversify a little bit better!