The other weekend I was at UK Games Expo, which is the UK’s national games convention – the closest thing to Gen Con, if you like. We used to have a Gen Con here too, but it died off some years ago. Fortunately UK Games Expo, which was a very much smaller con back then, has grown rapidly year on year to fill the gap: and this year about 6000 people attended.
The focus of the con is spread mostly across role-playing games and board/card games. I guess the large majority of the trade space is board/card, but quite a good proportion of the table space is RPGs – organized games, spontaneous games, and tournaments. All the significant UK publishers had a strong presence: which, perhaps unexpectedly, included me.
I was there not in any capacity of my own, just helping out a friend. Cat Tobin of Pelgrane Press needed an extra pair of hands to help out on her stand, so I volunteered.
Stand and deliver
I hadn’t worked a stand at a con in absolutely years – I guess the last one would have been back when UKG was my main job. I remember one excellent con in Birmingham where we were all dressed in Victorian garb to promote Inferno, our biggest game at that time. (The two people who were working with me that day have both since gone on to become multiply-published and -garlanded authors of fantastical fiction, which is a nice reflection on the wonderful levels of creativity and invention that I was lucky enough to have around me in the UKG days.)
But I’ve always enjoyed this sort of experience hugely. It’s two whole days of meeting people and talking about games, so that’s all good of course – but there’s something extra-rewarding when someone comes up to you with a gaming need, and you’re able to help them fill it. Properly talking people through stuff and giving them an understanding of what the game is, and how it will (or won’t) meet what they’re looking for. It was particularly inspiring working with Cat, who is really good at this aspect – understanding what people are seeking, even when they aren’t able to express it themselves. It’s not just about asking the right questions, but also about having a genuine empathy for that person’s situation and needs.
Anyway, so, I had a great time, and hopefully did my assisting-and-covering job OK. It did make me feel a bit nostalgic, though, for the days when I was doing that sort of thing on my own account. The business I have now is all via the web, so although there’s plenty of enjoyable customer interaction via email and so on, you don’t get the special feeling that comes from face-to-face events.
(I got delayed writing this post up because of being in hospital, but fortunately this allows me now to add that one of the Pelgrane games, Hillfolk, has just been shortlisted for the Diana Jones Award. This is really good news – it’s a fantastic game, and more importantly a fantastic example of how to use the DramaSystem. Selling Hillfolk at UK Games Expo was interesting, because the prospect playing Iron Age tribespeople is not always immediately engaging. But when you explain that the book includes 30 other completely different settings that you can play with the same system, and that what you’re really buying is a way of shaping wonderfully dramatic and intensely interactive game/stories, people’s eyes light up.)