I just recently returned from my first “big” con experience, and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about it.
Yes, I’ve gone to SHUX (which is kinda big here in Vancouver), but that didn’t involve travel at all. I’ve also attended some smaller cons here in Vancouver as well as some down in Bellevue, Washington (Dragonflight and OrcaCon) and Bellingham, Washington (CascadeCon), but those are within driving distance.
Dice Tower West is the first con that was a “destination” con (it’s in Las Vegas, which means flying!) and I was really looking forward to going.
I’ve been a fan of the Dice Tower and the people involved for many years, so the idea of meeting some of them, and even gaming with them (!) was a real attraction. This, plus meeting some other people who haven’t gone to the other cons as well.
And I have to say that overall I had a blast!
But there were some negatives as well.
Las Vegas (the Strip, at least) is very glitzy and almost overwhelming. Everything there is designed to separate you from your wallet and I found that a bit off-putting. I’m obviously not the target audience, not being a gambler and not being interested in the shows and stuff for the most part.
But it was pretty.
Let’s go over the positives before I get to the rather large negative, though.
The convention itself was amazing! It was neat to see Tom, Eric, Zee, Crystal, Suzanne and so many other boardgaming people that I like and admire.
It was neat to even meet some of them!
It was cool to talk to Eric Summerer about audio books and podcasting, and Merchant of Venus of course.
Wandering around, I also got to meet one of the most approachable people in boardgaming: Stronghold Games’ Stephen Buonocore.
After all of the hubbub with the Aftershock Kickstarter, I had a nice email exchange with Stephen and said I would love to meet him. He said it would be an honour to meet me.
No, Stephen, the honour was mine. Thank you for being so gracious and welcoming, willing to chat about gaming and just so damned nice!
The highlight of the con, though, was actually having an appointment with Alderac Entertainment Group CEO John Zinser and designer John D. Clair to play Clair’s new card-crafting game called Dead Reckoning. It will be hitting Kickstarter in May and I will have a preview post up taken specifically from my play of it here.
I actually felt like a media member!
But I did get a pic with the guys!
Both guys (along with developer Mark Wooton (Not pictured, and I hope I got the last name right!)) were incredibly nice and welcoming, and I loved getting to play John’s new game with them.
We spent 2 hours on the game (needless to say, I came last, but John said it was a good score for a newbie) and I had a blast the whole time.
#DiceTowerWest was a great con! Got to play some great new2me games, The Crew, Its a Wonderful World, Parks, and others, and got to show off 2 of my 3 releases this year, Cubitos and Dead Reckoning. As always didn’t remember to take many pictures. pic.twitter.com/EfDn2o3BFm
— John D Clair (@JohnDClair) March 2, 2020
I’m also not used to seeing my picture on Twitter unless I’m the one posting it, so this was a nice surprise.
I even got a brief chat with the man himself, Tom Vasel, though when I did I think he was distracted or something because it was very brief. I never got the chance (ok, the nerve) to go up to him again and perhaps get a picture.
The best things of all, of course, were the games and the people in general.
The game library is massive and had almost everything you might want to play (other than Quacks of Quedlinburg which never seemed to be in stock even though they had 4 copies!) .
The volunteers were lovely people, always eager to help if you needed it. We even had one volunteer teach us a game and watch over it to make sure we were playing it right and having a good time.
I think it’s great that they have a section laid out in the gaming room so that you can play with people from the Dice Tower. I never got a chance to (they were always in the middle of a game when I walked by), but the fact that it’s available is a great thing!
I was sorry I missed Eric’s Merchant of Venus game, though. They were just wrapping up when I walked by and spoke to Eric again.
It’s the people that make a con and there were wonderful attendees. I met and gamed with a ton of people, all very inviting and wanting to share their love of gaming.
The convention itself was a very enjoyable experience.
The one negative thing I would say about the con is that I think they may be close to outgrowing the Westgate Resort & Casino venue, at least if they continue to grow. While my wife and I were always able to find a table in the Open Gaming area somewhere (when we were setting up a game ourselves rather than wandering looking for a Players Wanted sign), it was tough at times.
I heard a few people mention that it hadn’t been that hard last year.
I don’t think anybody was ever shut out from finding a table, but it was close sometimes.
If they get more people in coming years, they may have to change venues.
Which might be a good thing considering my one major negative opinion of the entire week.
As a convention venue, I’d have to say that Westgate isn’t that bad.
As a hotel for people going to that convention, though?
I have really negative thoughts on that front. This might be just me and my wife feeling this way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others share this opinion.
We get to the hotel on Tuesday afternoon, figuring we’d explore a little bit on Tuesday before going into the hardcore gaming beginning on Wednesday.
It’s been a long day. We had to get up early for the flight, we got into Las Vegas a little bit late and then we had a 50-minute shuttle bus ride to the hotel that wound its way through the Strip dropping other people off as well.
That’s all fine. It’s a new experience and that’s great.
We check in to the hotel, get our room keys, and head off to the room.
To immediately be waylaid by a staff member asking if we were new to Las Vegas, there on business or pleasure, and if we would like to hear about some deals they have (a food credit, stuff like that).
Sure, whatever. Deals are nice.
And then the hard sell REALLY began. We were new to all of this so not quite ready for it. In exchange for all of that great stuff, they wanted to schedule us for a 90-minute presentation about their timeshares or vacation destinations.
We said we weren’t interested. “Are you sure?” More hard sell. No, we said. We’re not interested. “But it’s great stuff!” (Paraphrasing there, of course). No, we’re good. I think it took 5-6 “no thank yous” before they let us get on our way.
But it didn’t stop there.
Every time we went from our room past the lobby and toward the gaming area, somebody tried to stop us to talk to them for a minute. “No, we’re not interested.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, we’re sure.”
Sometimes you just had to avoid eye contact and that might work.
Or sometimes they already had grabbed somebody and we were safe.
The sales people at the cosmetics store were even more pushy.
EVERY. TIME. WE. WALKED. BY.
I understand that they have to do this. They’re directed to by management. That’s why we were polite (though sometimes firm, always polite) and we don’t hold anything against them.
They’re just doing their job.
However, it was our first impression of the hotel and it set a bad taste in our mouths that lingered through the entire week we were there, reinforced by the further attempted hard-sell at least 3-4 times a day (depending on how many times we went through to our room and back).
It was like a bad smell that sure, maybe you get used to over time, but it’s still there and it’s something that you wish wasn’t there because it makes your enjoyment of things just that much less than it would be otherwise.
Our room had issues too. Apparently the East Tower is an older building and it definitely shows. None of the issues were enough to require getting a new room, but again it just left a sour impression that any rooms would be rented like this.
The walls were incredibly thin, which didn’t help when our neighbour had some kind of alarm or buzzer that kept going off.
An Enjoyment Level of 9 was brought down to a 6 or 7 just because of all this.
If the convention itself hadn’t been so good, it would have been even worse.
I do want to emphasize one thing, though.
The staff members there that we interacted with were incredibly nice, always helpful, and greeted us with a smile when we went up to them for help or with a question. The maintenance man who came up to address one of our room issues was wonderful.
We have nothing against the staff at the hotel. We were very happy with them.
It’s just what management is asking some of them to do that we have a problem with.
There is also a lack of really affordable food options at Westgate. Yes, you’re on vacation, you just make do and pay the money, and maybe this is just how Las Vegas is, but it was a bit disappointing as well. The buffet was decent, but way overpriced for the quality of food you get.
I’m seriously hoping that the convention has outgrown (or will soon) Westgate as a venue, because I am never going to stay there again.
If we return to Dice Tower West in future years, we’re going to stay somewhere else on the Strip, get a monorail pass (the monorail was a godsend!), and attend the convention that way.
There’s no reason we should have to put up with all of that just to get some gaming in.
Dice Tower West – A!!
Westgate Resort & Casino – C (and only because the staff is wonderful).
What are your thoughts on this? Were you there? Did we talk? What was your opinion of the con?
Or maybe you have other con opinions?
Let me know in the comments!