The hobby of tabletop gaming has deep roots in the Midwest, after all we have a lot of long winter nights to fill. From the earliest days of Dungeons & Dragons, Napoleonic miniatures and the simpler boardgames of childhood, the Midwest has been in the hub of the ever-changing hobby of gaming. Some of that history, and examples of the future of gaming, were on display in Brookings at the Swiftel Center last weekend at Dakota Game Con 2017.
This convention is in its fifth year and saw over 200 in attendence this year. Despite the convention's relative youth, the organizers of Dakota Game Con have been active in promoting the hobby for several decades. Dakota Game Con is organized by the Great Plains Game Players (GPGP), an organization that has been in existence since the 1970’s.
Most of the gaming events were focused on board games and miniatures, though there was some role-playing games (RPGs) and Society In Shadows did run a live-action role-playing (LARP) session. There is a balcony in the Swiftel Center in the main arena, where the LARP was taking place. It was a great use of space and allowed the LARP crowd their own area to operate in. There were some video games being played, which did attract a lot of kids, but the main focus was on "old school" games that require hands-on play and face-to-face interaction. And as at most gaming conventions these days, there was a large cosplay component and contest as well.
After catching up with friends and acquaintances from past conventions, I jumped into a game of Euro Rails, one of my favorites. This is a train game from Mayfair Games, where players build track and haul cargoes across a map. The goal of the game is to connect a set number of major cities and reach a set monetary level in order to win. The farther the cargo has to go, the bigger the payoff. But it isn’t the payoff that counts, but the profit as one has to pay in order to build track. Like many board games, there is an educational component. The game teaches basic economics and geography of Europe as well.
We had to cut the game of Euro Rails short as there was another game starting that we all wanted to play in. Rob Doss, who I met at Sogen Con in Sioux Falls about 10 years ago, was running a game of Arkham Horror. This cooperative board game that requires team play. It is based off of the books of H.P. Lovecraft and is set in 1926 in the city of Arkham. Gaming conventions are all about inclusiveness and are a place for new players to learn how to play. Several new players sat in on this rounds and we managed to win the game.
After the Arkham game, I joined a game of Dynasty League Baseball (DLB) with my friend Casey Davidson. DLB is a card and dice game based off of real life baseball, where players are rated based off of their performance in a specific season. As the player, you take on the role of the team manager. Each individual player has a card, which means you can create all-star teams and draft entire leagues. For baseball lovers, it is like being able to play fantasy baseball across decades. You can play teams from different seasons against each other. A typical game takes only about 30 – 45 minutes to play and can be played solitaire or head-to-head. The level of detail in this game is amazing, as it takes every facet of the game into account.
I had a series ongoing, so we decided to play game number two of the 2015 Royals vs the 2016 Cubs (the last two World Series winners). Casey chose to manage the Cubs, so I took the helm for the Royals. Casey’s Cubs beat my Royals 2-0 to even the series at one apiece.
Sunday featured one event I was really looking forward to, the Settlers of Catan Dakota Cup tournament. Settlers of Catan is a very popular board game that has been around for over two decades and has long been one of my favorite board games. Players take on the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players are awarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points, typically 10, is the winner. Over 22 million copies have been sold worldwide and it is one of the most popular non-computer strategy games of recent years.
At this event, there were prizes being awarded to the first three places so I had my “game face” on. There were two qualifying rounds and the top four players would then be entered into a winner-take-all round. I crushed it in my first round game, winning handily. I didn’t win the second game, but I had more than enough points to make it to the championship table. Things didn’t start off great for me, but I managed to pull out a victory in a very close game to claim the first-place prize and a plaque.
After the Catan tournament I finally had a chance to talk with Chris Kushman, the convention manager. In addition to managing the convention, Chris ran a few gaming events as well.
Generally the last day of the convention has a more relaxed atmosphere. I ran into Rachel from VDR Cosplay, and I didn’t recognize her at first, as I had never seen her dressed in anything other than her costumes. We had a good laugh about that as she explained that has happened to her quite a few times before.
Before I left I took a few photos of a large scale Flames of War miniatures game being run by my friend Dave Glewwe. Flames of War is a World War II tabletop miniatures system. I always marvel at the level of detail miniatures players put into painting their pieces and creating the various terrains they use for their battles.
As someone who has been around the convention scene in this area for a while, it was good to see “the old guard” (of which I guess I am one of) interact with younger gamers. People were willing to explain and teach the games they were playing to those passing by or looking on. The hobby of gaming has expanded and changed over the years with new technologies but it was nice to see some of the roots of the hobby still popular with the new generation of players.