Archive for September, 2013

GenCon Attendance Continues to Rise

Last year I posted about the phenomenon of rising attendance at gaming conventions.  Unfortunately I only have numbers from GenCon to support this argument, other conventions don’t seem to publish their numbers, but I do attend some others and suspect it’s a general trend.  This year I wasn’t able to attend GenCon, but despite my absence it seems their numbers are again through the roof.  I got an email recently in which they claimed “more than 49,000 people attended the convention with attendees from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.”

Here’s the updated chart from Wikipedia:



I cannot help but wonder how long this growth will continue, and what on earth is powering it?  Seriously, do I need to worry about a time in the future when the convention is so huge that it’s no longer enjoyable?  I’m not really sure if that is a legitimate concern.  So far GenCon has done a reasonably good job of keeping like activities in similar locations, which I think helps create the microcosm of “your convention” vs. the convention at large.  Unless your tastes are all over the map, chances are you won’t have to spend half the convention running back and forth across town as you’ll really spend most of the time in one of two or three hotels and the main dealer’s hall.  In fact, for the past couple of years I’ve only ever entered the TCG and Miniatures halls on the last day before leaving, just to see the splendor and say so long to the convention.

To put these numbers in perspective I decided to look up another convention which I had a vague idea was significantly larger: E3.  Turns out E3’s attendance last year was actually only 48,200, still a huge number, but actually lower than GenCon’s 49,000.  Another interesting fact is that the first E3 was held in 1996 and drew 80,000 attendees.  It is interesting to note that not only has it shrunk in its lifetime, but the year of the first one has an interesting parallel on the chart above, the first year that GenCon’s attendance started to flag.  Is it possible that in the mid 90’s interest in video games was stealing from tabletop, and that now almost 20 years later that trend has reversed?

All this is just a bunch of silly conjecture based on not nearly enough data I’m sure.  Still, I find this chart fascinating and am excited to see what the numbers are like next year.  More though, I’m just excited to get to go back to GenCon again.  I can’t believe I missed it this year.

Gaming Table Obtained

So last weekend it showed up, by which I mean, it showed up at Pier 1 and I had to rent a u-haul truck to go pick it up.  And of course all they had left was 14′ trucks, so I had to rent this massive thing to bring home one table.  I guess the good news there was that there was plenty of room inside the truck to rip open the packaging so we could bring it upstairs to the family room piece by piece.  With just Jenn and I as labor, it would have been impossible to carry up the whole box as a single piece.  Here though, is the end result:


As you can see I’m quite excited (though that may be due to simple physical exhaustion).  The chairs are still just some folding chairs I set up to get a sense as to how many people could really sit at the table.  10 will fit easily with the leaf in, and I can imagine 12 might squish together.  With the leaf removed it’s still a pretty imposing table, but not totally overwhelming.

Behind the table you can see my two miniature display cases mounted to the walls, with shelves between them ready to hold my dwarven forge collection.  Just off to the right you can see my GM’s Valet from Geek Chic.  I have to say, 12 year old me would probably be pretty amazed at the gaming setup I’ve managed to make for myself.

Not pictured (behind the photographer) is the 10′ tall mural of an enormous moose, complete with real antlers hung on the wall at the top of its head, courtesy of the previous owners.  So before I go unpacking all the miniature terrain, books, etc, I’ve got a lot of sanding and painting to do.  Soon though, I hope to put my game-cave to serious use.

Chairs too, I gotta find me some chairs.


The Hunt for the Great Gaming Table: Part 2

OK, so I knew I needed a new table and I had laid out my requirements.  Where to begin?

I looked at some websites of local furniture stores (Bob’s, Jordan’s, etc.), but the styles popular these days just weren’t quite right.  As I said, I kind of like the look of some hefty wooden trestle table.  I did some more internet hunting and found some very nice custom work out there, but custom woodwork tends to break the bank.  They were far too expensive.  Next stop: craigslist.

There were some promising items to be found used locally, and the prices were the lowest of anything I looked at.  Generally though they fell into one of two problem categories.  First, were tables that were just, well, ugly.  Right size, good price, could be easily transported, and just screamed 1977.  I guess that chunky wood trestle table style was in back then, and it’s hard for me to put my finger on what separates those beautiful custom items linked above and the mass produced 70’s stuff I was finding, but I could tell it when I saw it and I just couldn’t bring myself to go in that direction.

The second category was even more disappointing: impossible to move.  These tables looked great, maybe needed a little refinishing, were cheap, and super far away and heavy.  I suppose I could have rented a trunk to drive up to New Hampshire if I was absolutely sure I wanted one of them, but I knew for any table there was going to be at least two trips: one just to check it out and a second to actually transport it.  And no doubt the two photos on the average listing would be misleading or not show some important detail.  I suddenly foresaw many weekends of driving around looking at these things in hopes the next one would be the right one.  Gosh, it sounds a bit like house hunting, and didn’t I just finish doing that nonsense?

I sent a few craigslist post to Jenn in hopes that she might help the search a bit, and also so she could express her opinion on any furniture I might bring into the house.  Enter etsy.  I never would have thought of looking there, but Jenn sent me this very cool looking item:

Farmhouse Trestle Table DIY Kit

OK, this looked promising.  I like the way it looks, I can customize the exact size, it’s pretty cheap, I thought we might have a real winner.  My only fear based on the pictures was the grooves down the length of the table.  They looked like d20 catchers, and I fore-saw a lot of cocked dice disputes.  Then the idea hit me of making a topper for it, some flat piece of wood perhaps felted on top that could be fit and held in place on top of the table for gaming.  Should we ever want to use the table for something else (eg. Thanksgiving dinner), the top could be easily removed.  OK, it’s getting to be a bit bigger a project than I wanted, but the topper could probably be delayed.  We were basically living at Home Depot over the weekends these days, so I took the opportunity one Saturday to examine the wood that would be used for the table top.

Well, it was clear that not only was I going to have a problem with the grooves, but the transport issue was beginning to show itself again.  The 2×10 planks it calls for are huge and heavy, and of course I’d want a good 8′ in length on these.  There’s no way our little car could carry these massive boards.  So toss in there a truck rental just to bring the wood home.  Transport, labor, dice catching grooves… no single one of these problems was insurmountable but put all together it was starting to feel like this was not the table for me.

And that’s where we were this weekend.  Nothing obviously promising on the horizon, and honestly far from our minds as we drove about on more house related chores.  We were at Pier 1 to look at curtains for the living room when I saw the trestle table at the front of the store.  It looked like they it was probably too small, but I liked the style so I went and poked around.  Next to the trestle was this table, which looks pretty plain and boring on the website, but in person was quite nice.  Not quite the trestle style I’ve been looking at, but it has a good solid chunky look.  The price was good too, the only problem was it felt a bit smaller than what I wanted.  Then I saw sitting on the table the advertisement for the other pieces of the collection: chairs, bench, and oh my goodness, a variation of the table that includes a 24″ leaf.  Perfect!

I tried to order it online when I got home, and unfortunately it looks like it’s only available for store pick-up.  The store is only a few miles away, but will I be able to transport it?  Well, the good news is there’s a u-haul rental place just down the block that will rent me a truck or van for $20 plus $0.60/mile.  It was border-line failing the transport requirement, but OK what the heck, I ordered the thing.

So there you have it, table ordered and scheduled to arrive within 10 days.  Coming soon, The Hunt Part 3: Chairs.

Gaming Tables

Back at last!  The move went relatively smoothly, and we’ve been spending every weekend since with various projects and unpacking.  All the essentials are unpacked, and now my thoughts are turning to the gaming space.  I installed shelves in a closet to store board games, and hung my miniature display cases on the wall of the family rom in easy reach of the… wait a minute, there’s no game table here!

Over the years I’ve played games on many different surfaces.  Dining and kitchen tables dominate, but I’ve seen my fair share of unusual gaming tables too.  I spent a summer playing a game in a friend’s basement on an old forgotten pool table.  I’ve played sitting on couches around a coffee table.  I’ve played at conference room tables in offices, folding tables at conventions, and on a $15k Geek Chic Sultan.  With this wide range of experience, you can bet I have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to equipping my own house with an appropriate play surface.

One of the first pieces of furniture we ever bought new (rather than inheriting from family or friends), was a dining room table.  It’s a beast of a thing: 60″ long rounded rectangle with two built-in 12″ leaves that fold up and collapse into the table itself.  This made the table top super heavy, and I always feel bad when we make movers move the thing.  We bought it for our last apartment from Bob’s Discount Furniture, and I still recall Bob personally calling Jenn to tell her when it was going to be delivered (a job for robots these days I imagine).

That table came with us to our first house in Maynard, and was the home of a three year long campaign when we lived just a 5 minute walk from the offices of 38 Studios.  When we moved out to Medway the new dining room was enormous, and the sellers had a beautiful antique dining set they were looking to sell.  We snatched it up and the old dining table was moved to the game room upstairs to become the official gaming table.  Many more game were had on the thing there, while the dining room table was used strictly for meals.  Now in the new house the dining room is much smaller and couldn’t hold that antique set, so like our predecessors we unloaded it before the move.  The old table, now a bit battle scarred from years of use and several moves, is once again in place in the dining room and being used regularly.  That said, we have an enormous family room up stairs ready and waiting for a gaming table, so for the first time in my life I find myself in the unique position of having a dedicated gaming space with no pre-existing furniture to fill it.  I’ve been waiting for this day!

No really, I’ve been thinking about this a long time.  I remember back at our first house, which was much smaller than either house since, imagining what it would be like to have a dedicated game room.  The first question to pop to mind was what kind of table I’d want to have.  At one point I even sketched elaborate plans for a very unique surface.  The shape I thought would be best was a half circle, allowing the DM to sit along the straight edge giving him a very large space to spread out his materials.  The players would sit around the curved edge, thus ensuring there was no “good seat” close to the DM, as they’d all be equidistant.  The surface itself was two layers about 6-8″ apart, forming a shelf below the table top for each player.  The top surface would be either entirely glass, or at least have a glass rim of about 12″, such that players could leave papers or open books on the shelf below and still see down at it to read as necessary.  It was a nice fantasy, but the table is actually completely ludicrous.  To fit a decent number of people in a semi-circle requires a huge radius.  The two layers are complex to build, and I can’t even imagine how you’d get a curved piece of glass to fit.  And who wants to roll dice on a glass surface?

That custom Geek Chic Sultan table I played on cemented my opinion against fancy custom tables.  Don’t get me wrong, that thing was gorgeous, in addition to being custom built explicitly for gaming.  That said, it was totally incorrect for my style of game.  I imagine they’re great for games that require heavy miniature use, and it’s really nice to have lots of extra storage and the ability to just slap a lid over the minis between sessions.  I don’t use much minis in my games these days, so all that’s kind of lost on me.  What I did notice is that when you sit with your legs under the table the top is practically at your chin.  OK, more like nipple height, but still, there’s a lot of bulky table between you and the other players.  The other option is to get a tall stool, but then you lose easy access to all the fancy cubby holes and desk surfaces.  And all that bulky material between you and the other players, well, it just feels like a big barrier and not at all conducive to such a social activity.

So, here are my requirements now for a gaming table:

  1. Must comfortably seat 6-12 people.  OK, it can feel a bit crowded at 12 that’s fine, as long as it’s still possible.
  2. Must be reasonably priced.  Dining tables are not cheap, and chairs are surprisingly expensive.  That said, I’m not going to drop thousands of dollars on this thing.  I seem to recall that Bob’s table cost us about $800, including chairs, and that feels like close to the high end of reasonable to me.
  3. It should look appropriate both to its purpose and environment.  Personally, I like a hefty chunky trestle table, something kind of medieval looking that could hold up to years of gaming.  That said, it shouldn’t look out of place in its environment.  A huge fancy piece of ancient looking woodwork may not quite fit right in my carpeted, white walled, family room.
  4. Chairs should either not look terrible or not be included.  I’d rather solve the chair problem separately than be stuck with horrible looking or uncomfortable chairs.
  5. Not too much work.  I’m willing to explore the idea of refinishing some old second hand thing, but I don’t want a project that’s going to take months of work.  I’d rather spend a few more dollars than hours swearing in the garage about my terrible carpentry skills.
  6. Transportable.  That means either someone’s got to deliver it, or it needs to break down in some way such that I can actually transport it myself, and I do not own a truck or van.  I do have a roof rack I can tie things to, but I’m not comfortable with overly large things up there for very long journeys.

OK, looks like this is going to be part 1 of a multi-part tale.  Rest assured the problem is close to solved at this point, but I think it’s worth exploring all the details of my hunt and this post is already overly long.  So next up, part 2: the hunt for the great gaming table.