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!


  1. Cons are weird beasts.

    Hopefully the organizers will relent and change it to another day. Perhaps Canadian Thanksgiving?

  2. I really enjoyed the SoCal Smackdown and feel that they did a great job appealing to an audience that has been neglected by Strategicon. If you read any interviews with Adam he explained the genesis of the con and how it came to be. From the get go he said it was mainly for minis gaming and that the board gaming and RPGs were a minor part of the con. When you try and harp about the date you are forgetting about who the target audiences for these conventions are SoCal Smackdown was minis and Strategicon is mainly RPGs and Boardgames. As far as the date; so many people seem to forget that Strategicon isn't what it used to be and their attendance has been very low the past few years. Gamex which has been around for decades only had 350 people compared to the 200 people that were at the Smackdown in its first year. I really don't know why so many people are defending Stratigecons monopoly of prime holiday weekends when no one attends anyway. Already there are so many commitments for the next Smackdown from big name companies and from several retailers. The Smackdown was a wake up call to the OC gaming community that there is a local choice, and to gaming companies that there is more than one con in SoCal that isn't going to gouge their pocketbook for space. All in all this was the beginning of something big.

  3. @Darren: Yeah, I agree with you - I'm not an expert on miniatures gaming, but it looks like Smackdown is probably a better venue for this kind of thing than Strategicon - especially for tournament play. Smackdown seemed to be extremely well organized, had a very enthusiastic crowd, and had strong official support for the minis events. I'm sure the next Smackdown will be amazing for this kind of gaming. However, I respectfully hope you are wrong about RPGs being a minor part of the con's ultimate vision! I'd love to see this aspect of the Smackdown expand next year!

  4. Originally it was supposed to be a small part. Toward the end of the planning phases there was a huge request for RPG's. There were quite a few people who expressed interest in running RPG's at the next Smackdown.

  5. I got to wander a bit in the room after my sessions, and although the stuff non-rpg related looked cool (especially Monsterpocalypse - but I don't want to buy all this stuf)), I soon got bored and went back to my hotel to drink more.

    But although some sessions of rpging were under attended (inc. my sunday session), there for sure was a strong showing for some sessions on Saturday.

    Having a good session and having a few new friends in the game community there helped my fun a lot. That plus the drinking.

  6. The SoCal Smackdown should continue to schedule it on the weekends it wants to. Let the community decide which event they want to go to. Either Strategicon or Smackdown will survive. One thing is for sure, Henry was one of the founders of Strategicon and since he has left many years ago it has only been a former shell of its former glory. On a side note, it is really nice to take your family and let them go across the street to Disneyland instead of fighting pass the decaying strip clubs that dot the LAX landscape. Oh yeah, your car probably won't get broke into either at the Hilton.

    Loyalty is a funny thing. People don't like change. You need to earn loyalty. For the miniature wargamer, Strategicon lost my loyalty a long time ago when the really stopped supporting events in favor of LARP'ers and Vampire players. If you want quality miniatures or board games in the future, I think the Smackdown will be your only quality choice.

  7. I would like to Mention also that you missed out on one really big event that was at the convention. Catalyst Games Labs was there. We ran the hit new product from Gen Con "Leviathans" it is our new 1910 Steampunk era Battleships in the sky miniatures game. We also ran a full terrain version of Battletech on Sunday and had a full display. I loved the convention and think it will grow with a year to plan the next one.

  8. Well I think con bashing isn't a good thing. Actually the Labor Day Weekend was very productive . In fact I heard from friends who went that it had the highest turnout in years. And I think that is great as well as for Socal Smackdown. I think that both cons will find their niche and develop into even more being about the community as a whole. There is room for two Cons even on the same weekend. Socal Smackdown didn't take away at all from Strategicon. As for Socal Smackdown it is a new kid on the block and with only 90 days to get up and going it did very well. I will as in an Official Capacity support both venues and in fact am negotiating with Strategicon to be at their next convention as well. People said the same thing years ago about St. Crispin's Hobby Day in Anaheim. That it would never survive or grow. Yet it is packed with Board Gamers, Miniatures gamers,Card Games, and in the evening RPG's for over 12 hours of free gaming every 2nd Sat of the month. But it took work to grow and time , when we started it was only 4 tables and 6 guys approx. Now we avg over 80+ attendees and have the support of the War House and Brookhurst while supporting a worthy charity. In fact if you still feel like a full day of gaming is in your blood our next Hobby Day is this Sat Sept 11th from 8 AM to 11:30 PM.
    You can find out more at the Website at Meetup.com ... http://www.meetup.com/stcrispins/

    I'm all positive for gaming in the LA and OC.

  9. Hi Cyclopeatron,

    It was great meeting you at SoCal Smackdown and I agree with everything that you said.

    Our basis is miniature, but we would love to have more RPG and board games at the event. We reached out to the major players in this arena is Orange County, but never heard back, which is unfortunate as we would really love to have them at the Orange County convention.

    Hopefully next year will be different as we would really love to grow that part of the convention.

    We are already planning for next years convention and if you have any thoughts on how we can make it better we would love to hear from you. My email is adam@socalsmackdown.com

    Thanks again for giving us a shot and hope to see you next year (if not sooner).


  10. @Pat: "Either Strategicon or Smackdown will survive."...? That's a pretty messed up negative attitude, man. Personally, I'd like to see all the cons succeed and thrive.

    @Catalyst: Yeah, I regret missing your demo. I would really have liked to play in more games last weekend, but I have a new baby at home so I couldn't hang around too long. I also agree with your assessment that there's plenty of room for more cons and game-day activities in our region!

    @Adam: Thanks for chiming in! I know I'm a broken record playing to deaf ears here, but if you change the weekend and make a sincere effort to reach out to O.C. Boardgamers, Dead Gamers Society, Geekitude, Catan Meetup, RPGA, UCI Roleplayers, etc. you would probably increase attendance by 50-100%. These are huge active groups of good people (in my experience at least) that would love to support an O.C. con. Many of them have long standing ties with Strategicon, however, so your Labor Day scheduling pretty much precludes their involvement from the get go.

  11. In all fairness we are over looking something and it was very strongly worded by some other on other sites. People in Sun City, Tememcula, Palm Springs, San Diego prefer that there is an option to an LA Con even if it is also on Labor Day weekend as it saves them from a 3 hour or more drive to LA to an hour and half drive and those people now have a choice so they will never take away from the LA con so lets stop that after all they said after all the doom and gloom was over the net that the con would suffer because of Socal Smackdown and it definitely didn't. Also there was players from the San Diego Dungeon and Dragons Meetup and we can support both cons even if on the same weekdn as you stated those other groups are committed to another convention. Thats okay let them it is a fine. there is enough not a myth players to attend two cons almost an hour apart. When all the dust settles the two cons will develop unique different styles and promote to different groups and attendence was not hurt at Strategicon at all by Socal in fact it was very strong and for a con that only had 3 months to plan Socal Smackdown did great. I mean did major game company's show up to Stragticons first gaming convention as they did for Socal. So lets talk about the positives which way out weigh the negatives.


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