Convention Games 101

When you agree to run a game at a convention rather than for your own friends there are several key differences that need to be kept in mind to make things run smoothly.

  1. You will only have a finite amount of time for the game.  Usually you either book a set amount of time (60 minutes, 90 minutes etc.) or a block of time (12pm-2pm).  In either case keeping track of the time is important.  There may be other attendees moving into the space when you are done and your players may have other games to get to following yours.  The time you have is for setup, instruction, gameplay and teardown and be aware of how long each of those things take.  Some games (Arkham Horror and Firefly I’m looking at you) have longer than average setup times.
  2. The odds are good that you will be playing with people who have no experience with the game.  In many cases, when someone sits down to a table at a convention it is because they want to try something new.  You will need to teach people how to play.  Make sure you know the rules.  Make sure that if there is errata you know what it is (and bring it with you).  If you’re using any house rules, have those printed out and make sure you tell people ahead of time what they are, possibly in the description you submitted.
  3. Submit a description of your game for the schedule/website etc.  Your game is one of many during the convention and if you want players you need to sell the game to them.  Some conventions have printed schedules with descriptions, others have websites with electronic versions.  Make sure you submit a description of your game, even if you just copy the blurb from the back of the box or the company website.
  4. Be aware of your table footprint.  Some games take up an inordinate amount of space.  If you’ve got boards, decks of cards, play mats, dice cups, dice trays, dice towers, player handouts, maps, miniatures, standees etc. that all takes table space and needs to be accounted for when you submit your game.  RPGs in particular can take up more space than you think when you’ve got 4-6 players plus a GM with all their dice, character sheets, dice trays etc. it takes up a lot of room.  Most tables at a convention are either rectangular (30”x72”) or Round (60” or 72”).  Some conventions may allow you to book two tables or place two rectangular ones together.  If you need more space than this you should bring your own TV Trays or similar but check with the convention staff first as there may not be open space for more tables than the layout allows for.
  5. Be accommodating.  If a player realizes they made a mistake fairly quickly let them take it back.  If a player doesn’t seem to grasp a rule or something it’s your job to make it clear.  Some games seem to delight in byzantine rules or scoring mechanisms or placement rules and if a player makes a mistake let them correct it if they ask.
  6. Do not play the game for the players.  Some people have a tendency to backseat drive when they are teaching a game.  “You should move here” or “You should use this ability”.  Do.  Not.  Do.  That.  The players are there because they want to play the game you’re presenting.  Even if a player does something that isn’t optimal as long as it’s not wrong (and even if it is you should remind them of the relevant rule but absolutely let them make their own legal choice), then let them do it.  Answer questions as they come up, remind people of the mechanics when necessary but do not play for them.
  7. If at all possible for a board game, be the impartial referee.  Make choices for enemies, roll dice for them, read card text aloud, keep track of the turns, the scoring and all the fiddly bits but if at all possible do not play in the game.  Run it as a game master.  Your job should be to teach the game to new people, not to play the game with new people and it’s much much easier to do that if you’re not concentrating on your turn or your strategy.
  8. Be knowledgeable about the game.  If people enjoy the game they are going to have questions, the most predominant ones being “Where can I get this?” and “How much does it cost?”  If possible direct them to your FLGS rather than a big box store or online.  If you’re running an RPG many, many companies have free quick start rules online that provide pre-gen characters, condensed rules and a short adventure.  If that’s available for your game, absolutely direct the players there.  
  9. Bring extra materials.  If you’re running a board game make sure everything is in the box (I once ran a game where the actual rules were accidentally packed away in an expansion box…that I didn’t bring) that you’ll need.  If you’re running an RPG make sure you’ve brought everything you need and a few extra sets of dice, some blank paper and pens. If your particular game uses special things – tokens, minis, standees etc. make sure those are with you.  If you’ve made a checklist of what to include then make sure you actually use the checklist.
  10. Be enthusiastic about your game.  In theory you’re running the game because you enjoy it so be sure to convey that joy.  Even if you’re running the late night session or the dog days end of convention session.  You are running/showcasing a game that you love and you want other people to feel that.

By Chris Fougere

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