Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Southern California Gaming Conventions: Strategicon, WyrdCon, SoCal Smackdown, Etc.

Gaming is huge in Southern California. It’s so popular, in fact, that there are no fewer than five major gaming conventions in the Los Angeles / Orange County area alone. Surprisingly, however, I often meet local gamers who either never realized there’s a thriving local convention scene, never bothered to visit a local con because they don’t know what to expect, or went to a local con some years ago, had a bad experience, and never returned.

The point of this post is twofold. First, I simply want to provide a list of the Southern California gaming cons I am aware of. Second, I want to give brief first- or second-hand descriptions of what these cons are like. Hopefully this information will be useful for some readers:
2011 Southern California Gaming Con Calendar:
Feb 18-21: Strategicon / OrcCon – LAX Sheraton Gateway

April (?): Hyphen-Con – San Diego

May 27-30: Strategicon / Gamex - LAX Sheraton Gateway

June 2011:  PolyCon 29 – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

June 10-12: WyrdCon II - Costa Mesa Hilton

Aug (?): SoCal Old School Mini-Con IV – L.A. / O.C. area

Sept 2-5: SoCal Smackdown – Anaheim Hilton

Sept 2-5: Strategicon / Gateway – LAX Sheraton Gateway

Before I launch into the descriptions, though, I want to briefly describe the weirdness of Strategicon, which is by far our area’s biggest player in the con game. “Strategicon” is actually three different conventions at three different times of year: OrcCon, Gamex, and Gateway. Over the years Strategicon bought out other regional cons and moved them all to the LAX airport. Because of this Strategicon has had a virtual monopoly on gaming conventions in L.A. since the mid-80s. There are two major downsides to the Strategicon monopoly: (1) the character of all of all three cons has been completely homogenized and they all “feel” exactly the same, and (2) since they are all at LAX none of them are particularly convenient to outlying areas like San Bernardino, Orange County, Antelope Valley, San Diego, etc. This is especially ironic because OrcCon’s name is an abbreviation for “Orange County Convention” – so why the hell was it moved to LAX? Lame. Strategicon is a lot of fun and I go as often as I can, however there remains a strong reservoir of resentment towards it for the reasons I describe, especially amongst older gamers who remember the takeovers (for a taste of the vitriol, see the Comments to this previous post).

Strategicon (= OrcCon, Gateway, and Gamex): This is by far the largest gaming convention in Southern California. The last event in September 2010 had over 1200 attendees. Strategicon covers all aspects of gaming, including video games, miniatures, LARPs, RPGs, CCGs, and boardgames. Boardgames and RPGs are clearly the major focus of Strategicon, however. Indeed, Strategicon hosts most of the major regional competitions for many boardgames (and related card games like Dominion), sometimes with major prizes attached (e.g. a recent Settlers of Catan champion won a free trip to compete in Germany). There is always a huge turnout at Strategicon for RPGs as well, with major representation from RPGA (i.e. “official” D&D 4e events). While there are usually a handful of old school and indie RPGs being run, most of what you’ll find is the typical current mainstream stuff like D&D 4e, Pathfinder, GURPS, World of Darkness, FATE, and so forth. Call of Cthulhu is usually well represented, too. GM quality can vary, of course, but if you ask around about who the good GMs are you can definitely fill up all your days with excellent roleplaying. I always have an excellent time at Strategicon, but I have heard some complaints about the quality of sanctioned miniature tournaments at Strategicon, which in part led to the creation of SoCal Smackdown. Click here for pictures and a more thorough previous review of Strategicon.

SoCal Smackdown: This is a newcomer to the SoCal con scene, having had its first event in September 2010 at the Anaheim Hilton. One great thing about this con is that it is located in Orange County, and is therefore much more convenient for us more southerly gamers. Turnout this year was about 250. This con is primarily focused on miniatures tournaments, so if you are into Warhammer, Flames of War, Warmachine, etc. your mind will be blown. The downside of this con is that it’s on the same weekend as Strategicon, so most of the area boardgamers and roleplayers are in L.A. during the weekend and don't go to Smackdown. I think this conflict in scheduling is really very ill-advised, and I have ranted about it before: see pictures and a review of SoCal Smackdown.

WyrdCon: This is also a new con based in Orange County. This con is exceptional in that it is alllll Live Action Roleplaying (LARP). With 318 attendees at the first event earlier this year, WyrdCon handily wins the title of the biggest LARP convention in North America. Even though I had no background in LARPing I had a ton of fun at the last WyrdCon and I’m definitely going to the next one. You will see and experience very weird and intense stuff if you go. Read my previous review here.

SoCal Old School Mini-Con: This small and loosely organized one-day event has been held for three years now. The focus is all old school RPGs with a strong bias towards early editions of D&D and their retroclones. Attendance at the SCMC III this summer was around 30 people and it was perfectly awesome! Read about it here!

PolyCon: This is a smallish weekend-long gaming convention that has been running strong for 18 years at the Cal Poly campus at San Luis Obispo. I’ve never been to this event (long drive from O.C.), but I’ve heard it’s totally great. It appears to focus mostly on boardgames and RPGs.

Hyphen-Con: A smallish gaming con in San Diego. I’ve never met anyone who’s been to it, but it looks like a cool boardgame, card game, and RPG event. I think it’s been going on for six years now.