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.


  1. Know of anything further south, also in San Diego? I live in southbay(between San Diego City and mexico), and to be honest it would be far easier for me to go to mexico than orange county.

  2. @Locien - Sorry, I'm not aware of any other gaming cons in San Diego besides Hyphen-Con. I do know that CondorCon (Feb 25-27) has some gaming, but it is mostly a sci-fi convention: http://www.condorcon.org/

  3. "This is especially ironic because OrcCon’s name is an abbreviation for “Orange County Convention” – so why the hell was it moved to LAX?"

    Actually, just for the record, the meaning of the name "ORCCON" may be a trifle ambiguous. It was named by the gentleman who founded it, James John Myers -- and I, along with the members of the game club at Cal State Fullerton who helped run the first one, just assumed it stood for "Orange County Convention". Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? However, some time later James and I happened to be talking about the name, and it turned out (to my astonishment) that he had named it for the scaly monsters commonly known as "orcs"! Thus from two points of view, the same name had entirely different meanings! Furthermore, the first ORCCON was held in January 1977, and it has passed through several different hands since the mid-1980s, so what the current proprietors might think the name stands for is unknown to me...

    As far as the other convention names go, Gateway was named by a fellow named Kirk Robinson in 1981, and yours truly came up with Gamex (Game Exposition) and Strategicon (Strategy Game Conference). So there you go.

    As to why the conventions left Orange County, that is a whole other story, and a rather involved one, that took place after my connection with the Strategicon conventions had come to an end. I suppose one of these days I should write all this stuff down...

  4. @Fred - Wow! Thanks for the history!!

  5. @Fred, fascinating.

    I love the local con scene, just a lot of fun meeting and gaming with the locals.

    We at the Dead Gamers Society are planning a small con next Summer for the 20th anniversary of the Vampire RPG, details are still brewing, but it'll be fun.

    In addition, we're going to attempt to support both Strategicon and So Cal Smackdown next Labor Day. We intend to be at Smackdown on Friday evening, playing and running games and at Strategicon the rest of the weekend. I could work, we'll see.

  6. I expect Socal Smackdown to be even bigger this year. As it is starting earlier and ending later. It has had a year to plan compared to 90 days like last year. You have events like Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures tournament hosted by the DDM Guild.

    The Dead Gamers Society will be attending and helping run Vampire.

    But another big deal is the fact that Catalyst games labs will be there with the Official Demo Reps celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Battletech and the new Box set. As well as running 8 hours of full terrain BattleTech on Sunday of the convention ( Not to be confused with any casual gaming of BT ) Another boon to the new convention is the fact for the first time the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society Pacific Southwest will be running open format Historical Miniatures events. So even though there is still going to be miniatures Tournaments for Privateer Press etc. there will be many open format gaming. As well as so far the is listed 4th Edition D&D . For board Games so far there is some Z-Man Games being hosted and I'm sure more will be added. So this year Socal Smackdown is going to be a bit more then last year I suspect.

    As to Conventions in San Diego Condor Con has a thriving D&D RPGA events and board gaming and seems in recent years to be growing.


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